Angelo Garro (67) has a passion for firing things up. He is a blacksmith by training, a lifelong foodie by heart. Born and raised in Sicily, he’s been forging and cooking for the past 30 years in San Francisco. His Renaissance Forge has become an informal hub for a small community celebrating quality foods and cooking.
Now, Garro has turned his lifelong passion for foraging and cooking into an artisan business, producing his own Omnivore salt. “Growing up in Sicily, watching my grandmother and mother cook and pickle olives, put me on the path early on to respect the land and what it gives us, from all kinds of vegetables and fruit to hunting for wild boar.” For years, he mixed his own spice and herb-infused Omnivore salt to celebrate Mediterranean cuisine and bring out the flavors in fresh food. Encouraged by the enthusiastic feedback from other foodies and chefs, Garro launched a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter to turn his passion into a small business. Made from organic herbs and locally harvested sea salt, Omnivore salt exudes the smells of Sicilian home-cooking. More than 3,000 fans supported his idea, and were rewarded with the first shipment of professionally packaged salt. Now it’s available in specialty food stores and online. One of Garro’s biggest supporters is the acclaimed German film maker and long-time friend Werner Herzog, who edited and narrated a short video to launch Omnivore salt. “We met about 15 years ago and became friends. It was simply a miracle to have Werner do my video and give my project such a big boost,” says Garro.
Garro cooks nearly everything with his slightly spicy salt mixture, which is based on a secret recipe he has fine-tuned over the years: “It’s not something handed down from my grandmother but rather the sum of all my cooking done over the course of a lifetime.” Ingredients include black and red pepper, fennel seeds and various herbs.A big kitchen behind his forge tucked into an alley of San Francisco’s booming SoMa neighborhood serves as his test lab to cook Italian and Californian dishes, cure his own prosciutto and salumi, as well as make two varieties of red wine. “It’s all about community — people coming together to cook, crush grapes or just enjoy a whole roast pig,” he explains.
Connecting with food means for Garro to forage and harvest what’s close by and in season, such as peas or heirloom beans — an easy feat given the culinary variety that Northern California has to offer. “When I first visited San Francisco in 1980, I was sold. Pretty much everything I need is right outside my door.”
Renaissance Forge is a fitting name for Garro’s studio and kitchen right in the heart of San Francisco. While tech types sip cocktails in trendy bars across the alley, he’s at work in an old wooden workshop, forging artisan ironwork for a living, and curing meats and cooking homestyle meals for his small staff of two, or any friends who visit — whether they are enthusiastic hobbyists like him or starred pro chefs.Garro also hosts occasional book readings and large dinners in his workshop if they promote love and respect for good ingredients and good cuisine. His guests are surrounded by a curious collection of tools, iron bars, pots and pans. Those who wander off into the corners, will find piles of his Omnivore salt pouches and large wooden containers that contain the aromatic blend so Garro can rub it on meats or fish, and liberally sprinkle it on vegetables and stews. He’s still surprised at the grassroots support for his salt: “We are at a junction where it can become a viable business, which would be wonderful,” he says.
The kitchen is never far from where Angelo Garro works — in fact, it’s right behind his black-smith shop, so he can take a break, run his old Italian espresso machine or walk into a room-size fridge to check on his homemade Guanciale or Soppressata while a piece of ironwork cools down.
Text: Steffan Heuer