It was a perfect spring day when I arrived on the waterfront. The sun was out, a cool breeze rolled off the water, craft brews were poured, and ramen was dished up hot.
There were booths and tables of mouthwatering handmade food, from chocolate-covered caramels to cheese. Did I mention it was the perfect day? I arrived wide-eyed, and I wanted to eat it all.
Over the weekend, I attended a two-day artisanal food market, aptly named The Emporiyum, in Baltimore, Maryland. It was the event’s inaugural year and featured an impressive lineup of food purveyors, including Bryan Voltaggio, the chef at Volt, and a Top Chef finalist. Vendors came from the nearby Mid-Atlantic and from as far as Oregon.
The brain behind The Emporyium is event consultant and Baltimore resident, Mindy Shapiro. After visiting Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg market, Shapiro, a native New Yorker, and self-professed foodie, realized Baltimore had nothing like it. She contacted vendors who made products she loved and organized an event to share the passion she had for food with the city she lived in.
“I think food is an experience. It brings people together and it ultimately makes people happy. That’s how I look at it. Food that tastes great and is made with love is very special,” Shapiro said.
The event sold out. With more dedicated food markets like this surfacing, especially in smaller cities like Baltimore, it begs the question: Are people really that interested in food? In between bites and sips of everything I ever wanted in the world, I chatted with a few vendors about people’s attitudes toward food and about what they were making.
Based in Baltimore, the father-duaghter duo Jinji and Guy Fraser make small-batch vegan, raw chocolate with an emphasis on health benefits.
How did you get started?
Jinji Fraser: “I started my food life as a nutrition counselor. I was teaching cooking classes and coaching people who were looking to transition from refined foods to holistic ones. I was developing recipes and chocolate came about as an approachable way help people along that journey.”
Fraser found that people enjoyed her chocolate recipes and partnered with her father, Guy Fraser, to make chocolate by hand in small batches.
“I knew I wanted everything to be organic and super pure. We decided on an Ecuadoran farm. We went to a chocolate show in Paris, and that’s where we met the farmers who grow our cacao.”
Why is eating holistically important to you?
“It just feeds your body best. I feel it feeds your soul best when you know you’re eating as close to the earth as possible. It creates a beautiful energy not only within yourself, but between people, when you have an appreciation for how it’s grown. When food is organically and sustainably harvested, it’s good not only for your body, but for the environment itself. I think that in and of itself is enough to inspire a movement toward good food.”
Carolyn Stromberg curates and sells a collection of small-batch handmade cheeses from over 90 artisans at her cheese shop, Righteous Cheese in Washington, D.C. She has been working in cheese for eight years and has worked alongside notable chefs Frank Ruta of Palena and Johnny Monnis of Komi.
How do you think young people are interested in food now?
Carolyn Stromberg: “I think most of the young people I know are not into food in the old guard kind of way. They’re not interested in fine dining, but they’re interested in food in a way that Emporiyum is interested in food: It’s independent, it’s subversive, it’s street food, it’s entrepreneurial spirit. There’s an interest in that independent streak–people who are doing their own thing and not necessarily adhering to strict rules about how it’s supposed to be done.”
What is your passion?
“My inner passion is introducing people to cheeses. A lot of people come in with that “deer-in-the headlights” look, and they’re intimidated. For me, cheese and food in general shouldn’t be something that’s unapproachable. It should be something that you feel comfortable exploring and that’s what our job is behind the counter. We’re an interpreter. We can help you figure out a flavor or texture that you like. At its core, cheese is peasant food. Our job is to make cheese accessible.”
Co-owners Katie Horn and Marie Stratton first started selling handmade snacks at farmers markets. “After work, it was a lot of baking late into the night. We both had full-time jobs. I am a special education teacher, and Marie worked for a solar company when she started,” said Horn. The two launched a Kickstarter campaign, raising more than $12,000, and now they have their own commercial kitchen set up based in Baltimore. Their savory and sweet snacks can be found in markets, local stores, online, and will soon be offered as a subscription service.
How did you get started?
Katie Horn: “It stems from our love of food and cooking. As we started looking around, we found there was a hole in the market for snack foods. One of our motivations in starting this business is the sharing of food. If you have a snack, you want to share it. It’s really fun to see people come together over food.”
Do you think people are more interested in food these days?
“I think more people are becoming interested in food, but not necessarily in cooking. I think that it’s sequential. Once you are interested in food, you have motivation to try cooking on your own.”
What about food is important to you?
“I think focusing on local ingredients is really important for sustainability, plus everything just tastes better! As a society, we’ve become disconnected from our food. It’s important to raise awareness that food actually comes from somewhere, and it’s not always available to everyone.”
This story is part of National Geographic’s special eight-month “Future of Food” series.