Gourmet chefs, both professional and home cooks, know that factory sourced meat and poultry usually tastes like . . . nothing. Ground with the same seasonings, they can be hard to differentiate. Naturally, true foodies reading historical descriptions of meals can be perplexed at the all the fuss. The 18th century French gourmand and philosopher, Brillat-Savarin, came to the U.S. and waxed about eating wild turkey in Connecticut. When I first read that, I thought of the many turkey dinners I’ve had that could have passed for tofu and wondered what it must have tasted like in days of yore.
Ariane Daguin is the CEO of D’Artagnan, a gourmet meat, poultry and condiments company based in New Jersey (not too far from Brillat-Savarin’s turkey terroir!). Inc. magazine valued her company at over $132 million in 2019. But the company stands out from all others, as it’s not an industrial widget producer, but rather, based in gourmet creativity.
Daguin has won a blizzard of international awards for the highest level of “natural, sustainable and humane” production. Her father is the famous French chef, Andre’ Daguin. Professional fans include Cat Cora, Charlie Palmer, Daniel Boulud, Eric Ripert, Marcus Samuelsson, and Wylie Dufresne.
I see you have just started offering seafood! How did you get started on that and how did you pick varieties, sources, fisheries?
It’s totally brand new! We went in a new direction for the consumers in two ways. One, it is most attractive for consumers. Two, what we know of sourcing in seafood, portion control, easy to cook, delectable. We work with a boat where they do the fishing, deboning, and flash-freezing for consistent quality.
You have a seasonal supply of Scottish game birds. How did you decide to offer that and why Scottish?
The need for wild game birds and wild game in general came early on. Chefs asked for wild game for variety on the menu. In the U.S., you cannot commercially sell wild game. The USDA requires that they must look at the animal while it’s live. That’s not true in Europe. With the U.S. – U.K. (agreements), we are able to get the animal postmortem. That’s only for Great Britain, not for the rest of Europe.
Do you try to lobby for changes?
We tried. It’s a shame! The deer in some places is really, really overpopulated. People are hungry! It has to be regulated for sanitation, health, hygiene. We have to be careful.
Are there other types of game you’re thinking of offering in the future?
I think we’ve gone around every animal that we can eat. I don’t want to go into the crazy wild game. I wouldn’t want that, (like) from a zoo. We will always have better and better goals for ranchers, heritage breeds, tastier.
How did you get your first breakthrough with gourmet chefs, restaurants?
At the beginning, (when) the company was born, I couldn’t buy a good chicken. The prime audience for that (were) the gourmet chefs. They know and will pay a higher price. Consumers have other priorities: economic. It kept driving the price down with proteins, chicken – since WWII. We saw the fragility of that during the pandemic.
Tell me how you were affected by the pandemic.
The restaurants shut down on March 14, 75% of our business disappeared overnight. Retail store (items) – beef, chicken – grew. That helped. E-commerce grew, but the balance is a loss. For the year, we’re at -3-4%. April through May was -25%. Summer, -17%. By November, we saw we could end the year profitably. Our motto, from the Three Musketeers, is “All for one and one for all.” We didn’t lay off, but no bonus, no matching 401k.
What are some of your personal hobbies?
I like to cook, of course! I just started the One for All, All for One Foundation Regenerative Farm. It really cleans up my head. It educates people about the circle of life. We do rotation of pastures, avoid the chemical fertilizer.
What types of products are just available to professional chefs and caterers?
Pretty much the same species, but the range of products is different. Restaurants: more in bulk, less packaging. Consumer retailers want more long-lasting, convenience. The underlying demand for both is quality.
How much of your collection is available in grocery stores?
For the pro chefs, we have close to 1,000 SKUs. For retail, chicken is 60 items: breast, liver, whole chicken. Very popular items. E-commerce has 7,000.
It can be very hard to find chicken feet. Do you carry them?
The demand is not there. The professional chefs, they use them in stocks.
How do you educate people on heritage chicken appearance?
People are getting more and more education. Chefs know right away. With consumers, that comes with experience. With Covid, people cooked non-stop, they learned!
Tamar Alexia Fleishman was the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's youngest female solo violinist. A world-traveler, Fleishman provides readers with international flavor and culture. She's debated Bill Maher, Greta Van Susteren and Dr. Phil. Fleishman practices law in Maryland with a J.D. from the University of Baltimore, a B.A. in Political Science from Goucher College. Read Tamar Alexia Fleishman's Reports — More Here.
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