Bleu Hand Crafted Foods is a great new specialty food shop in Mammoth. Much of what they sell is sourced from artisan producers right here in California, including Napa cheeses, local wines, grass feed beef, buffalo and more. The other thing they specialize in is baked bread right on the premises. The interview below talks about their many products.
Dennis Mattinson Interviews Bleu Owner - Brandon Brocia
What made you and your wife decide to do this?
“We wanted to own our business first of all. We have a couple of kids that made us realize how time consuming being an executive chef was and a full-time director position was, so we decided that if we worked that hard, then we wanted to do it for ourselves and then have the flexibility of being good parents.”
So where were you an executive chef?
I was executive chef at the Westin here in town.
I thought you looked familiar?
“I opened the Westin. I was there for five years. My wife opened at the Westin as the Catering and Sales Manager and got promoted to the Director of Sales & Marketing with the hotel. And I got hired as the Executive Chef and got a job description changed to Food & Beverage Director and Executive Chef. That’s the nuts and bolts of the Westin.”
So how long has Bleu been opened?
“We just celebrated one year, July 4th, and we’re about to go into our 2nd winter season. I feel like that’s two summer seasons under our belt, and now we’re getting our second winter season under our belt.”
How was winter?
“Winter was amazing! It was an eye-opener. We went into winter not knowing what to expect, obviously. And me, being an executive chef and having that background, we put ourselves out there for catering events and by the 3rd week in January we had 2 ½ months of weekends booked solid of catering events. So I handle the catering functions and am doing things that really aren’t being offered. They are more high-end and definitely putting myself right there in the kitchen.”
With your executive chef background, is that where you learned about wines and cheeses?
“Definitely, I have had a passion for wine my entire career and with cheese just know the sourcing to get it up here is huge. And having good cheeseboards on menus for restaurants everywhere I’ve been, so we try to capture that high-end, high quality cheeseboards of restaurants and try to put them into a market environment.”
So why did you decide on buffalo as your meat of choice?
“Well, it is not only buffalo … it is grass fed beef too. But you can’t get bison up here.”
You can hardly get grass fed Bison or beef up here!
“Correct. And that is the reason I’m bringing it in. I feel the same thing with the cheeses, the wines, the beers, or cured meats. We’re filling a niche. When you start filling that niche you find out exactly what people are looking for. And after doing this for six months we felt that everyone needs grass fed meat. The meat part of that is that I connect, so that I knew how to source out fresh grass fed meat. I am a big proponent of fresh, not frozen, meats which changes the enzyme structure. So that’s why sometimes we have the bison and sometimes not. We will not accept it if it comes in frozen. It’s coming from Wyoming and it’s expensive so they want to keep their costs in line. It comes from a great, small farm out of Wyoming. I talked to the rancher and they don’t give them any antibiotics unless they get sick. So it is always reactive not preventative.”
So the cattle you source your beef from, are they a cross between Angus and something else, or are they basically natives of the area?
“This is all grass fed Angus. Meyer Ranch is in northern California. They have about 7 ranches in northern California. Each ranch specializes in different things so that’s where I bring them in. The cattle are not even finished on grass. It is 100% grass fed. That’s what we’re going for. The bison because they are from Wyoming are hay fed during the winter and then grass fed during the summer.”
So, what’s your favorite white wine?
“Wow! You know what! There are two that stand out for me right now. Poets Leap from Long Shadow up in Washington State. It is a dry Riesling. I enjoy that a lot. The other one is the Zocker Gruner Veltliner it’s an Austrian like white wine. It’s coming out of Edna Valley and its blowing people away. A little bit drier, a little less sweet notes and actually a lot of people expected to have a Riesling, but it’s actually dry, light, and crisp.”
More like an Alsace?
“Yes, more like that.”
How about a red, the one that you like the best, not the best?
“My favorite red wine, hands down, is the Rubbsow Cabernet, a Napa Valley small producer, all estate grown grapes. They are super conscience growers. They know what they can get out of their grapes and out of their wine. After talking with their winemaker and tasting his wine, and his describing the different futures, their different angles on their vineyards, I can tell right away that they are proud of their product. They are one of the many wineries that we have up here that don’t release wine until it is ready to drink. They know that they are going to go into restaurants and markets and you don’t need to put library wines into restaurants and markets. You need to put wines that are ready to drink. I think that is a standout.”
Why the name Bleu?
“You know it is lot more than meaning. If anything it rolls off the touch easy, single syllable. Cheese is kind of our center focus point in everything we do in the shop. And Bleu just fit there. We also are not a green business. We are kind of a blue business.”
So tell me a little about your bread and why you choose to bake it here?
“Well, two reasons it is always best to have quality coming from your own kitchen. And then we don’t want to bring in bread from southern California. We didn’t want to bring in bread that is already being sold in Mammoth as well. And we have standards; we wanted to make sure we were using all natural leavening yeast, sourdough starters and nothing added. No junk, no preservatives, and they are going to last 2 or 3 days. And that’s it! Different styles we bake are polenta, walnut fig, toasted pumpkin seed, campagne, baguettes.”
The trend now is for high alcohol wines, 15% and even sometimes 16%, back in the old days it was 12%. What do you think the reasons why the vintners are doing that, what’s the benefit or the liability?
“It is simple. Higher alcohol wine is bigger in the mouth and they taste bigger. They don’t need to create a complex wine to give that full body. So high alcohol makes your mouth feel big and lush. With high alcohol you have to have good wine to have great flavor. Old world style wineries have figured it out. They have been doing it for eons and they have balance and the right process in place. Big alcohol wines are from young vineyards and they want to satisfy now. That’s short time outlook on wine. The long term outlook is you’re seeing it more and more. Italian varietals, French varietals, like true French blends coming from California are low alcohol. The “blow your socks off” wines are falling off by the wayside.”