In Odd Jobs, Yahoo Food brings you the weirdest, wackiest, and most interesting occupations from around the food world. Who knows, you might be inspired to make a career change. Here, Jeremy Umansky explains his role as Master Larder and Head Forager at Trentina in Cleveland, Ohio.
Photo: Judd Pilossof/StockFood
Name: Jeremy Umansky
Job Title: Master Larder and Head Forager
Where He Works: Trentina Restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio
Years on the Job: 1
What He Does: “Basically, my mission as a larder master is to attempt to create foods that people haven’t eaten in a millennia in some cases,“ Umansky told us, like ancient Roman fish sauce or mushroom-infused salt crystals. That means managing hundreds of fermentation, curing, and pickling projects in Trentina’s larder, a room about 20-by-30 feet in size with wooden walls and rows upon rows of wooden shelves.
The larder itself is a bit like a science project. “I will take sauerkraut juice and rub it into my shelves and saturate the wood with it,” he said. The technique increases the bacteria floating around in the room, which creates a beneficial environment for his other projects. It’s a lot for a normal nose to handle, he admits. “[The room] smells like a million things all at once — it’s like jumping into a ball pit, aromatically.”
Here’s just a small taste of what’s in the larder right now: roughly 30 batches of different vinegars, koji-cured beef cheeks, beef lardo, nettle stock, and llama prosciutto. And what does llama prosciutto taste like? “It’s fantastic! It [has] a very light gaminess with this amazing sweetgrass alfalfa flavor, then the salt kicks in. It’s bliss.”
Umansky poses with a hunk of llama prosciutto Photo: tmgastronaut/Instagram
The other part of Umansky’s job is gathering edible ingredients from the wild to use in his many projects. It’s a demanding job, one that constantly requires Umansky to be educated on different plant varietals. Plucking the wrong one could mean disaster — a.k.a. sick customers— for Trentina. But Umansky has a perfect record.
“Since we’ve opened, we’ve used 180 different species of wild plants, and we’re on track to break 200 this year,” he said. “We’ve served 73 different species of wild mushrooms, and we should be up around 85 this year.”
Here’s an inventory of a recent foraging haul: wild violets (both leaves and flowers), horsetail, ramps, Japanese knotweed, dandelion greens, chickweed, wild grape flowers, garlic mustard, and oyster mushrooms.
As if all this wasn’t enough, Umansky also runs Trentina’s pasta program.
A recent haul of morel mushrooms. Photo: tmgastronaut/Instagram
The Workload: Don’t take this job if you’re not a Type-A person, Umansky cautioned. “I don’t sleep,” he told us. “It’s hectic: I work 6 days a week.”
Education: Some culinary school, but no degree. "Did I feel going to culinary school was a huge benefit for me? Yes. Do I also feel it’s not everyone? Yes. So take it with a grain of salt.”
Formal schooling aside, Umansky has more than 20 years of experience in the kitchen. “My grandmother was a kosher caterer in Cleveland, and I started working for her when I was 10.” He’s also keen on self-education: Umansky regularly pores over books like The Art of Fermentation, and keeps detailed journals of everything he’s collected from the wild and projects in the larder.
Umansky previously opened and ran a restaurant in New York state’s Hudson Valley, managed a farm in the same area, worked for Whole Foods and Fairway Market as an executive chef, headed the kitchen at now-shuttered Brooklyn Fish Camp in New York City, and started an online cooking class company.
How He Got the Gig: “It was a bit serendipitous,” Umansky mused. For several years, Trentina’s head chef, Jonathon Sawyer, “had been looking for someone to fill these roles, because other chefs just don’t have time to take on these sorts of projects.” Friends put the two in touch, and things "just started clicking.”
“I was like, ‘Oh, I found you! And they were like, ‘Oh, we found you!’”
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