The New York Times - April 06, 2005
Buying Like a Chef Is a Click Away
Find the artisanal food of Spain at LaTienda.com
Wholesale suppliers of high-end products like fine cheeses, game, imported condiments and fruit purées, meant mainly for chefs, have opened their warehouse doors to consumers who shop online. Dairyland, a Bronx-based company that is a major supplier to thousands of restaurants in New York and across the country, accepts individual orders at its Web site, www.chefswarehouse.com. There shoppers will find a fresh three-pound pheasant for $24, an eight-ounce package of sliced smoked salmon imported from Scotland for $12.50 and six liters of Badoit water from France for $21.
But if you want to buy the company's Grand Reserve 83 percent butterfat butter, the minimum order is 36 one-pound blocks, a bargain at $118. A comparable high-fat butter might run almost $6 to $8 a pound in a fancy food shop. Similarly, though some cheeses, like Spanish tetilla, and French goat pyramids come in small individual sizes, the minimum for imported Parmigiano-Reggiano is 20 pounds. But at $10.50 a pound the price beats Zabar's low of $12.98 online and $12.99 a pound at www.igourmet.com.
So, like co-op food buying in the 1960's, you have to find like-minded connoisseurs and cooks and share. And it is the Web site to use if you are giving a cocktail party.
"We are planning to break more products out so they are available individually," said Jane Walsh, a spokeswoman for the company. "We should begin to offer more cheeses for consumers in about a month."
Sales to consumers are a tiny part of Dairyland, which Chris Pappas started 20 years ago after taking over Veterans Butter and Egg, a wholesale distributor owned by his father and uncle until they retired. He expanded its list of cheeses and other dairy products. As requests by chefs increased, he added olive oils, vinegars and other condiments. The company has expanded into produce, fresh meat and some seafood. Its inventory lists more than 12,000 products, distributed nationally.
Mr. Pappas decided to sell Dairyland's products to consumers because, he said, he "got tired of saying no to my friends who were even willing to come to the warehouse." The Web site is called chefswarehouse.com because the company's original name no longer describes the range of products. "It turned out to be a poor choice, but it's tough to change it," Mr. Pappas said.
Other chefs' wholesalers selling retail online include www.chefshop.com and www.earthydelights.com, which is worth exploring for specialties like fresh fiddleheads and ramps in spring, fresh mushrooms, artisanal cheeses from producers like Cypress Grove in California and exotica like Shagbark hickory syrup.
The most complete Web site for baking ingredients, including unusual goods like organic oat flour, Swedish pearl sugar, dried buttermilk powder and toasted sesame seeds, is www.bakerscatalogue.com. Some items on this Web site are sold in professional-size quantities well below retail.
Online shoppers can also search for high-end foods and ingredients at Web sites dedicated to national cuisines, including www.tienda.com for Spanish, www.lepicerie.com and www.frenchfeast.com for French and www.gustiamo.com for Italian. A good Web site for Japanese ingredients and also for some from other Asian countries, including China, is www.pacificeastwest.com. Thai ingredients are available at www.importfood.com. And for foods from a dozen countries, with particular emphasis on Asia, there's www.ethnicgrocer.com.