For Angelo Garro, a passionate San Francisco-based epicurean, winemaker, entrepreneur and metalsmith, life is best celebrated at the dinner table with friends—and more often than not, a roast pig.
It was 25 years ago that Angelo Garro met Alice Waters on a blustery late fall morning at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. She was just a friend of a friend, along for the ride. It also happened to be Garro’s birthday, and he was leading his usual party troop to hunt for indigenous eel. With wine, pounds of foraged chanterelles and a self-made hibachi grill in tow, Garro was fully equipped to share his traditional celebratory feast. Of course, the chef/restaurateur was entranced by Garro’s bespoke “Bay-to-plate” meal, and the two became fast friends. “After that Alice would invite me to Chez Panisse every year for Bastille Day,” Garro explains. “We’d cook a pig.”
It seems Garro, a twinkly eyed, Sicilian-born, San Francisco-based blacksmith, forager, winemaker and entrepreneur, is always cooking a pig. Ask him to tell you a few stories and “I roasted a pig” is the common refrain. “In life, we are all experimenting with ways to be happy. I found out if you cook and share food with your friends, that’s very rewarding.” When Garro met director Werner Herzog at an opening party for Rose’s Cafe in the early aughts, “we had fun talking about movies, life, everything,” he says. “I had him over to my house. We roasted a pig. We became friends.”
Five years later, Garro showed Michael Pollan how to hunt a wild boar while Pollan was researching the final chapters of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. “When you hunt an animal together,” Garro explains. “You form a very close bond.”
Perhaps even more compelling than his seemingly obsessive swine roasting is Garro’s unintentionally dramatic contrast to his surroundings. Just blocks from Airbnb, Twitter and countless other SoMa district tech industry HQs, his metalworking studio and kitchen event space, Renaissance Forge, is tucked away in a forgotten alley. The building’s bones have been around since the turn of the 19th century. As nearby skyscrapers fill with millennials pounding out pie-in-the-sky apps, aiming—no doubt—to be the next tech millionaire, he builds “anything in metal”—gates, railings, coffee tables—using an ancient process he learned during an apprenticeship in the Swiss Alps.
And then there’s his wine. Bottles upon bottles of his own Syrah line the walls of the Forge’s kitchen. He’s been recruiting friends to help with the picking, stomping and bottling of grapes, which he gets from a private Healdsburg winery, for as long as he can remember. Using methods he learned from his father and other Italian friends, Garro produces out of the Forge, capping off every step of the process with a shared meal around his long wooden table. “It’s about getting together and celebrating harvesting, lives and friendship,” he says. “Good friends make you grow, they give you inspiration and ideas. I do it because it’s nice to be surrounded by friends, and good things come out of it.”
It was at one of his many dinners that Garro began plotting a way to bring his food ethos of eating from the land to the masses. In 2013, he launched a $30,000 Kickstarter campaign for the first product in his Omnivore line, a 100 percent organic mixture including dried fennel, black pepper and red chili pepper Omnivore Salt. Coincidentally, his friend Herzog happened to be in San Francisco for a lecture at the same time. When Herzog heard of the campaign, he insisted on narrating its promotional video. Needless to say, the crusade morphed into the stuff of tech startup dreams, earning almost $150,000—nearly five times what Garro set out to make. Meanwhile, Waters is said to keep a shaker of Omnivore Salt on her at all times.
This winter, Garro is at it again with a new lemon-laced salt designed for use with fish and poultry, as well as introducing three hot sauces. And just like the wine, the pigs and the metal-smithing that comprise his lifework, this current obsession—to get Omnivore Salt into stores nationwide—aims for far more than its surface value: “This is my way to help ensure healthier food for future generations.”
Written by Carolyn Alburger.
Photography by Aubrie Pick.