hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News & Issues September 2015


Lively service, vital flavors

Fryer foods showcase cousins’ sauces, spice blends


Contributing writer



Jude Goldberg and Reuben Schwartz tend the Vital Eats booth on Sundays at the Spa City Farmers Market. Stacey Morris photo

On a summer Sunday afternoon, a line is beginning to form at the Vital Eats booth at the Spa City Farmers Market.
The two men behind the makeshift food counter look like twin street performers outfitted in trendy hats, with oversized mirrored sunglasses and tattooed forearms, flashing outsized smiles as they banter with waiting customers.

Jude Goldman and Reuben Schwartz aren’t actually twins. They’re cousins who share a vision of creating delicious food and condiments with a conscience. Two years ago, they started their company, Vital Eats, which offers a line of signature sauces, rubs and spices that are vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free.

The cousins say they deliberately set out to create flavors that are unusual, perhaps even bold.
“A mentor and fellow food creator once said to me, ‘Don’t just create what people want; create what people need.’ I loved that,” Goldman said.

In brainstorming sessions with Schwartz, he recalled, the two men “pondered the question: What does everyone have in their refrigerator? Then I thought: Condiments!”

The cousins have developed their own unique riffs on America’s most-used condiment. Their King Ketchup is infused with brown sugar and apple cider vinegar, while their super-spicy Ghost King Ketchup isn’t for the faint of heart. Their Tsunami Umami promises a ketchup “reinvented from the ground up for the contemporary palate.”

“Reuben and I are a good team in terms of recipe development,” Goldman explained. “He has a very sensitive palate and a good working sense of what the common population enjoys, where I have a bold sense for pushing the envelope for cultural culinary fusion and a sixth sense to predict eating trends.

“Umami, for example, is a word now that is gaining popularity in the food culture and even becoming a household word,” he said. “Developing some products that are comfortable and recognizable, along with some bold visionary products, is really what we are about.”
Vital Eats also sells spice blends that follow creative suit.

“The Baharat and Za’atar are modern interpretations of spice blends that are thousands of years old,” Schwartz said. “The Redneck Rub and Legendary Love are creations we made just for Vital Eats.”

And then there’s the groundbreaking, chickpea-based vegan cheese sauce.
“It’s pretty amazing, considering our line is plant-based, vegan, soy-free, gluten-free, dairy-free and nut-free,” Goldman said. “We developed a cheese sauce high in protein and low in fat that dairy- and nut-free people can enjoy.”

The cousins sell their sauces and condiments for $8 per bottle or jar. Ketchup bottles are 12.5 ounces and hot sauces are 5.25 ounces. Thanks to the Internet, the pair’s condiments are sold around the world.

But it’s at farmers markets in Saratoga Springs and Troy that they dazzle crowds with their deep fryer and a little vegan wizardry, including their signature, ribbon-thin french fries, falafel, kimchi fries and veggie burgers.


Plant-based ingredients
Although Vital Eats sells food products that are vegan, Goldman and Schwartz don’t see themselves as messengers for particular diet or lifestyle.

“We don’t push, sell, promote a specific dietary regime,” Goldman said. “We eat mostly vegan diets, but we aren’t vegans.”

Instead, he said, the cousins focus on offering “healthy, fresh, local unprocessed ingredients.”
“We believe each person’s dietary needs are specific to that individual,” he said. “Eating in a responsible, sustainable manner and listening to your own body’s needs are what we feel are most important.”

Goldman and Schwartz worked closely with Cornell University and New York State Food Venture Services in developing their product line.

“Both were invaluable to help us create a line of shelf-stable, plant-based products without the use of chemicals, preservatives” or genetically modified ingredients, Goldman said.

Their focus on plant-based foods, while not specifically motivated by veganism, does reflect their views about how agriculture and the environment are changing.

“We also believe that the food sources for animal proteins will become more and more scarce in the future,” Schwartz explained. “So the importance for a sustainable plant-based diet in peoples lives will only increase year by year. What Vital Eats does is create delicious foods that service people’s dietary needs and concerns but also appeals to people that have no dietary restrictions.”

Schwartz also pointed out that their experience cooking for the masses at farmers markets helps them do more than spread the word about their products.

“We get valuable feedback from customers at the markets,” he said. “And that helps us refine each product.”

In between dropping scoops of falafel batter into the fryer, Schwartz happily fields questions on the availability of their sauces.

“No, we don’t have a storefront anywhere, but we’re available at Honest Weight Food Co-Op and Healthy Living Market,” he said. “And we’re in talks with some area supermarket chains.”


Fries to falafel balls
Though lines can begin to snake and the waiting time for orders adds a certain level of tension to the operation, the cousins seem to remain unflappable, joking with customers and each other as the scorching summer sun adds to the fryer-driven heat under their canopy.

“Sometimes things get crazy, but we don’t get upset,” Schwartz said with a smile as he glanced Goldman, who was busy putting finishing touches on a falafel sandwich pocket. “We just blame each other.”

The cousins’ biggest seller at their farmers market booth is french fries. The fries are cut on the spot from a nearby sack of potatoes -- and with the assistance of a food-processor-type blade ingeniously mounted on a cordless electric drill. With a quick squeeze of the drill’s trigger, Schwartz transforms a russet into white, nearly opaque ribbons, which he then hoists into the deep fryer to sizzle until they’re crisp and golden.

“The french fries seemed to be a no-brainer, because all demographics like them: young, old, vegan or carnivores,” Goldman said. “They’re a wonderful launch pad for sauces and spices as well.”

Customers can top their fries with their choice of King Ketchup, King Kick Sriracha Ketchup or Tsunami Umami Ketchup.

A close second in Vital Eats’ prepared food sales is the cousins’ falafel, made from a recipe developed by Schwartz that relies on raw, sprouted chickpeas.

“We wanted to serve some entrée options, so the falafel was a natural choice,” Schwartz said. “And we’ve been getting rave reviews on it, as we have with our kimchi fries.” (The latter are served with Vital Eats’ Killa Kimchi hot sauce.)

Goldman said the healthy nature of their food and condiments is something customers have come to expect, but he attributes Vital Eats’ rising popularity to the fact that he and Schwartz imbue their healthful philosophy with a sense of humor.

“It’s important to feed your soul as well, which is why our fries are such a hit,” Goldman said. “They speak to everyone on every level.”

Vital Eats condiments and spices are sold at Healthy Living Market in the Wilton Mall near Saratoga Springs, and at Honest Weight Food Co-Op in Albany, as well as online. Visit www.vitaleats.com for more information.

Goldman and Schwartz can be found at the Troy Waterfront Farmers Market on Saturday mornings; at the Spa City Farmers Market from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays at Saratoga Spa State Park; and at the Saratoga Farmers Market from 3 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays on High Rock Avenue in Saratoga Springs.