Chef Bruce Kalman, a New Jersey native, and has a thing for pickles. He's so passionate about them that he left a good job at the Churchill to start his own pickle company out of a rented commercial kitchen on Robertson Boulevard in West L.A.
Bruce's Prime Pickle Co. is small but Kalman's ambitions for it are big. Dressed in a #got pickles T-shirt with a vinegar-scented apron on a recent weekday afternoon, Kalman showed off the tools of his trade -- huge pots of brine, giant tubs of cucumbers (up to 1,000 pounds), buckets of hand-peeled garlic, savory spices and fresh vegetables such as cauliflower, onions and asparagus from local farms.
Kalman and his staff of six are cranking out six products: Garlic Dill Horsey Cukes, Sweet Cab Onions, Bloody Mary Asparagus, Cucumber Kim Chee, Curried Cauliflower and Chi-Town Giardiniere.
Each jar is hand-packed and hand-labeled, so it's labor-intensive work. Watching Kalman pack exactly two arbol chilies and one fresh bay leaf in each jar is a lesson in patience and the value of minutiae when it comes to building flavor.
"One of my partners said we could subcontract it out to a manufacturer," Kalman said. "But I think I have too much integrity to do that."
Kalman says that his attention to detail is what distinguishes his products, which have been picked up by quality local shops including the Cheese Store of Silver Lake, Oaks Gourmet, Lindy & Grundy and Umami Burger. The latter has signed Kalman to make the pickles for its burgers and an ancillary pickle plate.
Kalman sometimes works up to 16 hours a day on the pickles. He and his team will hand-chop up to 100 pounds of onions at a time (sob!), and it takes eight hours to hand-peel a case of garlic.
Kalman said he eventually will expand his line to include new varieties of pickles, but for now he wants to perfect the recipes he has. The curried cauliflower is a particular treat. He makes it with raisins from Peacock Farms, which plump up to the size of grapes when placed in the brine.
The Bloody Mary Asparagus is in a spicy tomato base tasty enough to use as a mix for an actual bloody Mary. In fact, you could create a near-perfect cocktail with it, garnish included. And the pickles themselves? Crisp, fresh, clean with a solid dill snap.
"It's a good pickle tonight," said Kalman after demonstrating the work it takes to pack one jar. "But in a week, it's a great pickle."