By: Sheen Fischer
When you hear the guy who makes your favorite salumi and prosciutto tell you that the difference in flavor between one leg of an animal and a leg on the other side is caused because said animal sleeps on the same side all the time and doesn’t get up to go to the bathroom, you know you’ve reached the next evolution of knowledge in your pursuit of all that is “foodieness”.
When he talks about the difference between the flavors of a summer sourced boar vs. a winter sourced, a male vs. female in the spring time, how the acorns affect the taste in the summer, how the smells of the meat can range from soap to fish and how the taste of the juniper berries in the meat will affect the final product, you feel that the universe has gotten sooo much bigger than you had imagined only moments before. These are the kind of revelations and details about your food supply that will have you saying “Wow” a lot.
“How do you know this stuff?” was not very insightful or probing, but was, nevertheless, the only question I could think of while listening to this discourse. The answer was revealing and the theme that was always in the background of conversation during our visit – “We learn this stuff by making mistakes,” says Pascal Besset, CEO of Angel’s Salumi and Truffles located in Carlsbad, CA.
And, herein, lies a master chef’s recipe for success…
Pascal Besset is perhaps the best classically trained, upper echelon chef in San Diego that you’ve never heard of. He has served as an executive chef in the U.S. Embassy in Paris as well as holding a variety of positions from Executive Chef to apprentice in six 5 stars hotels, two of which are ranked in the Top Ten hotels in the World. With classical charcutier training (cooking devoted to meat products such as ham, sausage and cured meats made primarily from pork and game) and many years of experience honing his palate, he is widely regarded throughout the food industry as a leading expert on gourmet products.
For about the past 25 years, Pascal has built his reputation for knowledge and excellence working in the wholesale segment of the San Diego food industry. Today, he works behind the scenes in his five year old company, supplying restaurants and chefs nationwide with the best tasting and most holistically developed salumis, prosciuttos and cured meats available.
To be clear, “behind the scenes” simply means that Pascal only wears his totally cool chef’s jacket for pictures like the one above or while at one of the many food industry events that he and his company participate in throughout San Diego and nationwide. The fact of the matter is that he is a General leading the charge on the front lines of the battle to source the highest quality raw food materials possible, then processing, packaging and delivering them in mind-blowing fashion to the end consumer.
Listening to Pascal speak about his company and product induces a realization that you are in the company of a person of conviction. The man is, without dissent, an expert in his field and, to anyone who spends five minutes listening to him talk about his business, clearly driven to be the best. His move from the kitchen to the food processing side of the industry stems from an intense desire to be involved with the entire process of getting the food up out of the ground and coercing, escorting, pampering, and guiding it to the end consumer in the most efficient and affordable way possible – knowing that if he carries out his mission properly (and there is no room for doubt that he is doing so), the final product will be some of the best food that has ever been produced.
In fact, when you consider the confluence of his gourmet chef background and training in combination with his extensive knowledge of the meat processing and packaging industry, you begin to understand the artistic precision and expert articulation and execution with which Pascal infuses every level of his operation, from sourcing the animals and truffles at ground level to ensuring that each finished package is perfectly presented, whether it be a small mail order bundle of salumi, an individual truffle or a pallet of bulk product.
Starting from scratch about 5 years ago, due to a convergence of business, personal and economic events that resulted in his having “lost everything”, Pascal has built an international sourcing and distribution network for his latest venture. From the Berkshire Pork he gets from Kansas and the wild boar he sources from Texas to Australian venison and French truffles, he is hands on in every aspect of his business and completely devoted to ensuring the highest quality of raw resources form the base for his finished products.
Pascal’s philosophy in creating his unique and standard setting cured meat recipes is to allow consumers to taste the natural flavor of the meat while enhancing it with natural flavors. He is vociferously opposed to the overuse of flavorings and spices, feeling that to do so would be to create a “ketchup” effect, drowning the natural flavor of the food so that it is unrecognizable.
More importantly, and this is where you get a feel for the true genius of his operation, is his philosophy of how to grow his company. Pascal relates that he is perfectly willing to let others open the doors in terms of creating burgeoning markets for the products and defining the initial distribution strategies, both of which require armies of people and boatloads of money.
There’s a saying I remember that fits perfectly here – “First in line, hold the door.” Pascal’s strategy is to follow through the doors opened by others with a superior product at a better price point. While he sells strictly through distributors, he actively courts the general public and individual industry professionals, providing them with product knowledge and education and then guiding them to the nearest ordering outlet or distributor.
As a result of this approach, he is able to offer his finished product at an average of $2 less per pound than his closest competitor, resulting in a lower end price point when it is actually sliced and plated for consumption by the public. In other words, he’s not trying to invent the wheel – but he is making it better and less expensively with a whole bunch of new models at a price that will allow greater numbers of diners to enjoy his offerings.
Pascal is running a lean machine at Angel’s. After spending the first three years as a sole proprietor getting his company started, developing the recipes, identifying his supply and distribution contacts, creating the packaging and performing all of the functions associated with building a business of this scope, he finally hired Larry Rinehart to help with some of the duties a little over two years ago.
Larry is well-known and respected throughout the San Diego food world, having owned one of the premier catering companies (TK&A) for over 20 years as well as having executive chef experience. Although his current duties are described by Pascal affectionately as “Ambassador,” Larry shares that he is technically an Account Manager that works with chefs and customers to familiarize them with the product.
Here he is pictured at his work station in the warehouse with his…leaf blower. I know what you’re wondering if you’re wondering the same thing I’m wondering. I didn’t ask and I’m not sure I want to know… 😉
Pictured here is the full line of Salumi and Prosciutto being offered by Angel’s currently, as well as the Crayssac truffle products, a label recently acquired through an exclusive licensing agreement for distribution domestically. Crayssac has been producing quality truffle products in France since 1900.
When Pascal and Angel’s Salumi are inducted into the Salumi Hall of Fame, the re-purposed toolbox in the picture, found on a junk pile, should be the first piece that is donated for display. It is a symbol of Pascal’s ability to envision potential, use every scrap of raw material and resources available to achieve a goal, improvise as needed and present a unique presentation of a classic product, both beautiful in simplicity and functional in execution.
To be able to do so with the budget of the average consumer in mind is, to me, almost incomprehensible. But, when a dream to bring your food creations to the masses is married with the unfettered energy, enthusiasm and knowledge that Pascal embodies, the seemingly impossible becomes merely the expected.
The entire company is comprised of four people. Larry, pictured earlier was the original employee while Julie Barker, pictured center, and Kathrin Hoeyng on the right are the newest additions. At any given time, all hands may be called to duty to perform whichever myriad tasks and functions are required to ensure shipments are sent and orders fulfilled. But, their business cards state that Julie is the Marketing Director/Office Manager while Kathrin specializes in the Crayssac truffle side of the business.
Is it a longshot to call Julie and Kathrin Pascal’s Angels…? C’mon, can you blame me for taking a stab at that one?
They speak lightly and affectionately of the teamwork that is required on a daily basis to run the business. From heaving, pushing and pulling stacks of boxes to the top of the walk in coolers and packaging (then re-packaging to Pascal’s standards) online orders to enjoying a family style lunch made by Pascal (nice perk, huh?), you get the sense that they have the intimate bond that goes even beyond family – that of a group of people that share a camaraderie and friendship that are forged by the fires of necessity, long hours together and hard learned lessons.
In the spirit of “Where’s Waldo” did you happen to notice my muse, Dee, in the picture?
Pascal’s artistic ability and experience as an Executive Chef is readily evident as he describes how pallets and orders are prepared for shipment. From the small mail orders to the large pallets, each package is inspected for geometric precision and presentation before going out. Pascal understands that the customer’s first impression of his packaged product is exactly the same as the first impression of a plate of food – a beautiful presentation is the precursor to a wonderful experience.
Pascal’s cured meat products have to be thought of in the realm of commodities. He cannot simply go down to the corner butcher store and buy a bunch of meat to make his salumis. He pre-orders his meat directly from the ranches and farms in November for the next year so that the proper size and amount of product can be grown for him. It is then shipped to his processor in Los Angeles where the different recipes are completed and the salumis are dried and cured like this batch in their LA drying room. 40% of his production is pre-sold before being made and is shipped to distributors directly from L.A. once it has completed the curing process.
The remainder of the product is shipped to his distribution facility in Carlsbad where it is palletized and packaged to fulfill orders as they come in. This is one of two walk in coolers at the Carlsbad facility. Due to the rapid rate of nearly 60% growth they are experiencing, plans are being considered to add more storage and floor space.
The tasting room in the facility was built with the same predilection for lean operating costs as is the rest of the business. The table and stools were built of reclaimed wood. The bison, boar and deer heads (representing the animals used in the production of his salumis) as well as the chandeliers were purchased on eBay. The couch was found at a thrift store. Pascal’s teen-aged kids helped with the painting. The result is a sumptuous, rich space that is both comfortable and welcoming, feeling as though it were created on a generous budget instead of a shoestring.
Plans for future expansion are bold and, frankly, visionary. Pascal talks about building tasting rooms or salumerias nationwide as though they are already under construction, where patrons can enjoy charcuterie paired with local wines and beers. When a goal is as clearly expressed and articulated as he makes them sound, the realization of the goal is made to seem as though it is only a formality.
The front of the business has been converted into a walk in retail showroom. Here, the general public can pick up small quantities of any of the products that Angel’s carries.
A cross sample of salumis, prosciutto and truffle products was set up for us to taste during our visit. When asked our favorites, hands down at that time, in that place, mine was the rich, creamy textured duck prosciutto, which is also the company’s best seller. However, each of the offerings had such a distinct flavor, texture and character that, individually, would be worthy of the trip home and last no longer than the three days it took us to polish off the breast of duck prosciutto we did end up leaving with.
Through our afternoon of chatting, Pascal’s tales of his business were positive and forward looking. But, during the course of extended, in-depth dialogue concerning the growth of his business to date, there were also the inevitable stories of loss, failure, mistakes, financial distress and destroyed product. There were laments of customs issues with imported product and logistics concerns with small farms, truckers and factory failures. And there was a shoulder shrug, as in, “(shrug of the shoulder) You have to expect these problems and deal with them.”
So, I don’t know if Pascal had an idea of the poignancy of his earlier words when he said them, “We learn these things by making mistakes.”
But, in that statement lies his great secret and a lesson that all who desire to succeed should fold up and put in their hip pocket for repeated reference. For, it is as clear as the paper thin prosciutto that Pascal slices – every one of these potentially soul crushing, morale killing, business ending scenarios are simply another rung on the ladder that he is climbing toward eventual world domination of the charcuterie market.
Let’s face it – there is no place that Angels fear to tread. Cheers, my friends!
Angel’s Salumi & Truffles
5621 Palmer Way, Ste B
Carlsbad, California 92010