I once had the sublime opportunity to play hookie from work to pick grapes with Angelo Garro. It was a memorable day. At dawn we gathered at The Renaissance Forge, Angelo’s blacksmithing studio-and-gourmet-kitchen housed in an historic industrial space in San Francisco’s SOMA district, for a coffee before our caravans left for Napa. Angelo had arranged for us to glean the vines where the winery had already finished harvesting. Fifteen or so of us picked grapes with gardening clippers for a few hours, picnicked on a hill with blankets spread out while Angelo passed around plates of pasta and home-made wine that he’d had brought along. A simple, heavenly meal – paired perfectly with our sweaty brows from the grape-picking and buzz from the midday vino. Then we drove back to the Forge to crush the grapes in a giant contraption he’d set up out in the alley. I thought I’d died and had landed in a Gourmet Magazine photo shoot. But no, this is just how Angelo takes advantage of a typical autumn day: with friends, outside celebrating nature’s gifts, and then preparing and eating these gifts. In his native Sicily, which he left behind as a teen, these traditions are based on seasonal customs. Nature informs your annual habits; but it is Angelo himself who is a Vigilante for keeping these traditions alive here in the USA.
You may have heard of Angelo – he was the badass Italian who Michael Pollan featured prominently in the New York Times bestseller The Omnivore’s Dilemma, referring to him his “foraging Virgil.” If you recall from the book, Angelo invited Pollan on a wild boar hunt (an exhausting, laborious sport.) What sets Angelo apart from a typical hunter is that he is also an expert in what to do after you kill the animal. Angelo can outline exactly how to butcher and prepare the entirety of the pig to turn it into many varieties of sumptuous dishes. It’s all part of his repertoire. And naturally, no part of the animal was wasted. He is master of the hunt, the kill, the butchering, the curing, and finally the cooking and celebrating. Not to mention the community-creating.
Perhaps what strikes me as most Vigilante about Angelo is how much of his life is genuinely cinematic by virtue of it’s gusto — he blasts his opera at dangerous decibels, he offers big bear hugs for “Hello”, he stands on a hillside picking grapes in his straw hat, he is a sure shot with a wild boar… One might think, “God, if only a documentarian could capture this original man” — BUT WAIT, one did. Angelo’s buddy Werner Herzog (of Fitzcarraldo and Grizzly Man fame) has recently done so. Herzog filmed a movie about Angelo, The Story of Omnivore Salt in celebration of Angelo’s most recent project — a gourmet salt company. With Omnivore Salt, Angelo attempts to bring to people inspiration for cooking with his same sense of passion and connectedness to the earth.
“I have been making my Omnivore Salt for many years”, Angelo explains. “My grandmother taught me the family recipe when I was a young boy in Sicily. This salt blend works on everything – meat, vegetables and fish; just a pinch unlocks the deepest flavors of your food. Many of my friends are chefs, restauranteurs, and artists, and for years I have been giving my salt to them. They loved it and urged me to share it with the community and with food lovers everywhere.”
Is there not an aura about this man that makes you want to slow down, put away your iPhone, pour youself and your friends a glass of wine, converse, and enjoy your sweet existence? Sign me UP! Angelo is a poster child for Vigilante Living: his life itself is a work of art. There is no artificial separation between his work and his play. It’s all one cohesive project called Living Well. Signore, please pass me some of that salt.