Local food writer Warren Bobrow lives in Jockey Hollow and grew up on a biodynamic farm in Morristown. After a long career in the corporate world, Warren took his layoff last year as a blessing. He recently took a few minutes out of his day to chat with me.
In a recent article, you mention that you saw an opportunity to completely change your life after your job was offshored. Can you tell me about that?
I couldn’t wait to get out of the corporate world. I was doing it for 20 years as an executive assistant in various capacities so I was ready for a change. I told them, “You’ve given me the greatest opportunity you could give me, which is to be myself.” I didn’t look at it as a curse, but rather as an opportunity to become the person that I am today.
You mention you grew up on a local, biodynamic farm. How do you think that has influenced what you do?
It definitely influenced what I do. I’m somewhat of a self-taught authority on biodynamics. I was encouraged to have a vegetable garden, although it was organic, not biodynamic. I grew fresh herbs, and I gave them to restaurants like Il Mulino in NYC and Po. I grew ancient seeds from Johnny’s Seeds in Maine. At the time no one had ever heard of chocolate mint. It was never about the money. I did it strictly out of the passion of sharing and being able to be a part of the meal the chefs created. I don’t know everything, but I’m a sieve for new information.
How did you decide you wanted to turn your career to food?
I went to Johnson & Wales in Charleston, SC, but didn’t finish. I was a self-trained chef, and I always had an ease of speaking about food and cooking. I worked for a wine school run by 56 Degrees Wine in Bernardsville. I would describe Chris Cree, the owner, as one of my mentors. I’ve had great teachers who all tried to nurture me to be someone in the food business, and I did all of this on the side. I have a natural gift of gab which comes out of my passion. I have a distaste for factory wines. I really like to work around people who work with wines that speak to the soils they are grown in. Small producer, handmade wines – if they’re organic & biodynamic, all the better.
Can you tell me about any stories you particularly enjoyed covering?
I wrote about Metropolitan Seafood, with owner Mark Drabich in Clinton. They were written up in the New York Times as the best seafood store in NJ – everything is sushi grade. I went to the Hunts Point fish market in the Bronx, and it was a life changing experience. You’re there at 12:30, 1 a.m. in the morning and the people that are buying the most incredible fish you’ve ever seen are all the great chefs of New York. No other tourists were there.
How has the Morristown area changed over the years?
There are no farms left in the area, and the only farms here are the ones owned by people who are incredibly wealthy and can afford to pay the taxes on the property. I have a lot of appreciation for those who can do that and to be able to share in that is really magical. The farms that you do see have to have a certain amount of wherewithall to be here. Most of the great soil has been plowed under from all of the development, too.
What are the area’s biggest environmental achievements?
The expansion of the Jockey Hollow National Park is one the greatest gifts to the those of us who are fortunate enough to live around here, but also to everyone who is fortunate enough to visit. There was a motion to build in the area, but luckily it didn’t go through. There are other victories like the Greystone property and the Schiff Land Preserve. It’s very important that properties like this are preserved, and it’s important that these places are open to the public. It’s a great victory.
Where do you feel the area still needs work?
The less fortunate areas in town need work with community gardening, more community gardening. I really dig what Grow it Green Morristown is doing at the Early Street property, and I really think there are more opportunities that are underutilized. Community gardens increase people’s understanding of farm-to-table cooking. I’d like to see more locally grown food feeding people with the culturally important foods that they grew up on.
Where do you get most of your food?
I only have flower gardens, but we’re thinking of putting up a garden – we need to install deer fencing though. We mostly go to Whole Foods, we also go to Delicious Orchards in Colts Neck, NJ. I buy seafood from Metropolitan Seafood. I have been going to Hoeffners in Morristown, the last German butcher in this part of the state, since I was a baby. Everything is grass-fed, locally slaughtered. It’s the most amazing pork out there – sausages with natural casings and everything from scratch. If you go in there, tell Steve that Warren Bobrow sent you.
Where do you find inspiration for your culinary creations?
My inspiration comes from the cook to my grandparents, and her name was Estelle Ellis. I learned how to cook at her knee. She was from southern Georgia and when she would make soul food, I would watch. When I worked in South Carolina, I made friends with Martha Lou who owns one of the great soul food restaurants in US. I cooked alongside her. She gave me the task of making chitlins, where you soak them in milk and change the milk every day. It takes the roughness out. Estelle taught me how to do that. They sold out in half hour, and Mary Lou said I could come cook with her. That’s where the story about the cast iron pan came from.
Do you have a favorite local restaurant?
We love Ninety Acres; they’re doing a Blue Hill utopian form of cooking. It’s located on the Natirar Estate in Peapack-Gladstone in carriage houses on this huge property. The driveway to get up there is easily two miles long. Richard Branson is the owner. The carriage houses are open to the public and they have a Viking cooking school. The focus of the wine list is all small producer, under-the-radar wines, most of which are organic. They also offer old vintages, which is difficult to find in restaurants these days. I also wrote an article about Guerriero’s in Morristown, which is a really great place to get southern Italian cooking with “mamma making the gravy.”
A favorite park, or particular spot within a park?
In Jockey Hollow, there’s a spring that George Washington’s troops drank out of – pure branch water that comes straight to the surface, and you can make a cocktail out of it with bourbon. Branch water is defined as pure natural water from a stream or brook often distinguished from soda water. The physical interatction of adding branched bourbon combines hundreds of years of Southern culture and drinking lure. “It’s the essence of purity and grace.”
What’s your best “green” tip for locals?
Buy local. Support local business and local stores – eat locally and don’t eat chain food. I think it’s really important to help people who have this passion for feeding because you can see the love that comes through every plate they do.
What are some recent articles you’d like to share with ecoMotown readers?
I wouldn’t be where I am today without WildRiverReview.com. They gave me my start, and now I’m the editor of the Wild Table blog. Without them, I don’t know where I would be.