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From Pumpkin to the Whole Hog, the story of Del Mano

Stefan Grosberg’s journey to finding himself in an enterprise of food made by hand, Del Mano.

Ten years ago, in Italy, pumpkin changed his life. So begins Stefan Grosberg’s awakening to his new calling, in which food – good, clean and fair food – would be the path to a life of purpose and dignity, sustainability and celebration. He was, he said, at a low point, considering the options of returning to Trinidad and Tobago, getting ready to jump on a plane. As fate would have it, there was no easy way; he was in Italy to learn the art of charcuterie.

It was pumpkin season there, in which this fruit of the earth was folded into every Italian dish possible. It was a time when the seasonal vegetable became the seasonal meal. And in appreciating the reasons for celebration, Grosberg fed into the deep connection of the people with their landscape. He realized that in Trinidad and Tobago, we had lost our appreciation for local seasonal produce.

“We created Trinitario cacao, and produced the finest cocoa in the world, do we celebrate it?” He asked. We spend over four billion dollars to import food every year, he said, do we celebrate the over 25 varieties of yam, 40 varieties of cassava, over 50 of sweet potato, over 35 mangoes that grow on our islands? Appreciation of this incredible diversity is underdeveloped.

He returned to Trinidad after his epiphany in Italy, and planted a kitchen garden; both for the joy of harvesting what he can grow with is own hands, and to appreciate the effort.

Consumers have the power to influence the market. Buying local should be a source of pride and investment in the welfare of our farmers.” And he reminds us, “cheap food makes poor farmers.”

By choosing local produce, we take pride in what is grown here, we celebrate our creativity and diversity which leads to domestic development, food security and sustainability. It may not always be straight line, but it is always a worthwhile investment in health and community.

From Pumpkin to the Whole Hog,
the story of Del Mano

Stefan Grosberg’s journey to finding himself in an enterprise of food made by hand, Del Mano.

Ten years ago, in Italy, pumpkin changed his life. So begins Stefan Grosberg’s awakening to his new calling, in which food – good, clean and fair food – would be the path to a life of purpose and dignity, sustainability and celebration. He was, he said, at a low point, considering the options of returning to Trinidad and Tobago, getting ready to jump on a plane. As fate would have it, there was no easy way; he was in Italy to learn the art of charcuterie.

It was pumpkin season there, in which this fruit of the earth was folded into every Italian dish possible. It was a time when the seasonal vegetable became the seasonal meal. And in appreciating the reasons for celebration, Grosberg fed into the deep connection of the people with their landscape. He realized that in Trinidad and Tobago, we had lost our appreciation for local seasonal produce.

“We created Trinitario cacao, and produced the finest cocoa in the world, do we celebrate it?” He asked. We spend over four billion dollars to import food every year, he said, do we celebrate the over 25 varieties of yam, 40 varieties of cassava, over 50 of sweet potato, over 35 mangoes that grow on our islands? Appreciation of this incredible diversity is underdeveloped.

He returned to Trinidad after his epiphany in Italy, and planted a kitchen garden; both for the joy of harvesting what he can grow with is own hands, and to appreciate the effort.

Consumers have the power to influence the market. Buying local should be a source of pride and investment in the welfare of our farmers.” And he reminds us, “cheap food makes poor farmers.”

By choosing local produce, we take pride in what is grown here, we celebrate our creativity and diversity which leads to domestic development, food security and sustainability. It may not always be straight line, but it is always a worthwhile investment in health and community.

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“We created Trinitario cacao, and produced the finest cocoa in the world, do we celebrate it?”

An Education After University

In the summer of 2008, Grosberg graduated with a Bachelor’s in chemical engineering from the University of Bath. He was intended for the oil industry; or maybe to bio-diesel. 2008 was the heart of the financial crisis; but he was still optimistic that he would continue to post-graduate studies. By 2009, there was no funding, so he took a job in the family business (TRICON Company Limited) in which he had grown up and which had sustained his parents and their six children. Stefan is second to last.

In 2009, at a Caribbean Round Table in the Hyatt, he met Isabel Brash. He was inspired by her journey to the Cocobel Chocolate brand; bean to bar, single estate chocolate using a variety of local flavors, fruit, and spices. He found a community of like-minded artisanal food producers and farmers who were committed to growing healthy food; living on small farms; attempting to institute organic practices. He was especially captivated by the people practicing according to Slow Food principles in Trinidad and Tobago. Slow Food is the movement away from ‘fast food’ that started in Italy; it now has supporters worldwide and an annual festival.

He traveled to an organic farm in Ireland, where they grew their own livestock and processed fresh and preserved meats. It was an education to see the detailed and extended practices from growing the animals, to slaughter and packaging and markets. He came back home and worked for his father again.

“I realize here that I am in a very privileged position,” he admits, “with parents not only supporting and encouraging me from home; but able to extend work in the family business. I am truly grateful for that support.

“I started to sample and sell my pesto at Upmarket, and there I was able to meet other people with a similar mindset and artisanal products.”

Building The Brand

“By the first six months of 2011, I was busy figuring out the regulations and registrations for processed food: but basically just wanting to make pesto."

“I got all the inspections done, and had enough pesto for the Christmas market. I had been fascinated by the charcuterie in Italy and Ireland, wondering how to do it here. My daily routine in Italy was making salami, bacon, ham, using every part of the pig."

“Then in 2012, I bought myself a pig - a whole pig - which I processed for my family: ham, bacon, sausage, the whole works. "

“In 2013, I registered Del Mano Food Ltd. Pesto was still my main product; but I was trying to find a way to get to sausages, and to figure who my market would be. I make two flavours of pesto: basil and chadon beni; and sausages from pork, lamb and poultry."

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“Then in 2012, I bought myself a pig - a whole pig - which I processed for my family: ham, bacon, sausage, the whole works."

“I would like to have end-to-end production. To do what Cocobel is doing with cocoa, for meat - the old European styles of eating everything from an animal – would be extremely challenging, but possible. It would mean securing animals from certified farmers or growing them myself, certifying and inspecting abattoirs and extending the range of products to all the other cuts. It would certainly revolutionize the meat industry in Trinidad and Tobago.”

He catches himself in the daydream, “But right now, I am sticking to my niche which is sausage business.”

Del Mano Food has acquired a factory space in Macoya. Based on the quality and commercial marketability of his pesto and sausages, he has applied for and received grants. From ExporTT, he received two grants, one for design and layout, and to develop an e-commerce website. He recently applied to the Ministry of Trade, Grant Fund Facility, for capital purchases, towards a cold storage installation. He was also awarded a grant from the Caribbean Export Development Agency which is EU funded, on a reimbursement basis. He received financial advice from the Maritime Financial Group, and was successful in getting a loan from its subsidiary Fidelity Finance and Leasing Company.

“I realized I have to make and sell enough to stay in business. Since last year, I have two full-time employees in production; one more to be on the road, delivering and merchandising. Covid-19 has shut down the better part of this year, but my product is in the freezers of Massy Stores, Blooms, and many others; and in restaurants such as Buzo and Chaud Cafe.

“Del Mano sausages are specialty items, made from the meat of humanely raised animals. Shouldn't we place a premium on meat and all that we can make with it?”

 
 

The Next Challenge

Every culture with ancient food traditions places a premium on meat. On the spiritual side, you were grateful for the animal that gave its life for you. On the practical side – especially if you hunted your meat – it was a rare commodity, hard fought for, so even when you gorged yourself (no refrigerators) or made it last through long and continuous methods (salting and smoking as in bouccanee or long slow cooking as in pepperpot), meat was prized and precious. Every part of the animal was used and useful.

“Meat is part of the balanced diets of human beings. It is a quality item; and therefore with so many choices on the market, consumers should make sure they are getting quality.

As he continues his exploration of the TT and global food scenes, Grosberg has become an advocate for Slow Food, for artisan farmers and artists. He spoke about his transformation by the humble pumpkin in TEDx Port of Spain in 2011. These days, he says, “I’m on the TED team that coaches new speakers every year.”

Now that he has cornered the pesto market, and working his way to make Del Mano sausages a staple – if pricey – meat choice, what’s next?

Maybe to sell enough pesto and sausage to buy his own farm. Maybe, as he did in 2012, to go after the whole hog. This would mean stretching himself to manage a farm, an abattoir, to be a processor and purveyor of fine quality meats, grown locally, flavoured with Paramin herbs or even with coconut, cocoa, watermelon, pommerac, pommecythere, fed into the meat.

It’s not unlikely. After all, it’s already being done with cocoa and chocolate. Why not pork or poultry?