Frankie + Vanessa
Frankie + Vanessa founded their eclectic spice company, Gustus Vitae in 2012 to bring spice blends back to their roots. Utilizing only sustainably-harvested species, herbs + fruits, Gustus Vitae produces a range of spices from simple flavored salts to complex ethnic blends. Find their 'Taste of California' blend in The Box from Chef Fabian Gallardo + their Taste of Bordeaux in The Box from Chefs Phillip + Caleb!
What Inspired You To Start Your Company?
Frankie: I love to cook and we both feel so blessed to live in the breadbasket that is California. We started making our own little seasoning blends and finishing salts using herbs, fruits, and spices from our local (Venice Beach) farmers market, and it really just kinda grew from that – first we were making them for ourselves, then our friends, then we made them available at the Venice Beach Farmers Market, and now they’re in Whole Foods in California and gourmet shops all around the US.
Tell us about your products.
Vanessa: They’re really pretty straightforward – what seasonings and spice blends used to be before everything started being mass-produced and chemically treated and mixed with fillers and crap like MSG. We take sustainably-harvested spices, herbs, and fruits and salt (we recently started working with Solar Rain, a bottled water company from San Diego that desalinates the water, making this wonderful mineral-rich sea salt), dry or dehydrate them, mix ‘em up, and hand-pack them. That’s it. We’re simple people.
What Does Being A Small-Batch “Craftsman” Mean To You?
Frankie: I think it means being thoughtful, all the way through.
Vanessa: This might come out weird but I think part of it is saying no a lot. There’s so many shortcuts that people and companies can take, but it always comes out. You can literally taste it. Eating or enjoying something “small-batch” is different – there’s a perfection in imperfection.
What is your favorite small-batch treat?
Vanessa: Big things made small. I could eat pretty amuse-bouche sized portions of basically anything.
Frankie: Really stinky, room-clearing cheese on a crisp cracker. A great blue cheese right on the edge of dangerous to eat is a joy.
What Drew You To Food?
Frankie: Mostly the eating of it. I like that part the best.
Where Does Your Food Inspiration Come From?
Vanessa: We’re surrounded by so many people doing all these amazing things with food – from farmers and ranchers to chefs and makers. It’s inspiring and a little intimidating, all of this knowledge. We just try to add our little touch on to some of the amazing bounty that’s being gown and harvested and made around us.
What Products Are You Working On Now?
Frankie: We’re really excited to be releasing four new finishing salts at the end of Februrary: Blue Cheese Sea Salt, Dijon Mustard Sea Salt, Buffalo Wing Sea Salt, and Wasabi Sea Salt. We’ve been pretty busy in the kitchen figuring out how to capture these amazing natural flavors and incorporate them into our California Sea Salt, and we’re just about there.
Do You Have a Favorite Product?
Vanessa: The ‘Taste of Cyprus’ is my go-to. It’s the one food product that I eat every single day.
Frankie: Our Sriracha Sea Salt is pretty rad. And the new Blue Cheese Sea Salt is something we’re really proud of – it was pretty hard to figure that out and it came out way better that we imagined.
Latest Ingredient Obsession?
Frankie: I’ve been cooking with beans a whole lot. Almost every day now that I think about it. It’s almost cold enough to make cassoulet and I’ve been doing my homework.
Vanessa: Mint. I used to think it tasted like toothpaste, now I think it tastes like blue sky on a winter day.
What Did You Have For Dinner Last Night?
Frankie: Stir fry. Lots of ginger and hot chilies, then green beans, peas and diced mushrooms, and finally a big bunch of basil, sprouts, green onions. We had on brown rice and used ‘Taste of Thailand’ to give it depth and heat.
What Person, Living Or Dead, Would You Most Like To Have Try Your Product?
Vanessa: My grandfather on my Mother’s side. He was Egyptian and I’d love to make him something with our ‘Taste of Egypt’.
Frankie: My dream is we somehow smuggle one of our salts with one of those people going to Mars. I would like our salt to be used on Mars food.
What’s The Best Piece Of Advice You’ve Gotten In Building Your Business? What Advice Would You Give Other Craftsmen?
Frankie: It’s not really advise, but there are times when someone goes out of their way to compliment you on your product, or tell you that they used it in a meal and it was great, or that they always use it on their pop corn on movie night or whatever – those things, when you realize that people who you’ve never met are eating and liking something you made, that’s incredible, right? And then all of the late nights and weekends and missed outings with friends and stresses of starting and running a small business are 100% worth it. So, I guess, listen when people say nice things.
What Other Local Food Craftsmen or Chefs Do You Admire?
Vanessa: My favorite chef in LA is Juliano – he created RAW and is a genius. A genius who make delicious things.
Frankie: So many. I’m awed by Chef Josiah Citrin’s uncompromising dedication to excellence. That man is incredible. All of the good people at the Farmer’s Market’s we frequent – people who’ve made food their life.
If You Had To Choose Your Last Meal, What Would It Be?
Frankie: Duck confit and French fries.
Vanessa: Do I have to decide? So many things.
Favorite Restaurant or Food Experience?
Frankie: Sometimes Vanessa will go into a food coma. At the table. It is beautiful and endearing beyond words.
Vanessa: Shhhh! Mine is sitting down with friends around a big spread of lots of different things: cheeses and pickles and dips and veggies and just enjoying everyone and everything.
What’s Do You Enjoy Doing Outside of the Kitchen?
Vanessa: Life! Every single bit of it.
Frankie: Beaching and outdoorsing.
What’s Your Favorite Kitchen Soundtrack?
Vanessa: Musicals! Can’t get enough of ‘em.
Frankie: Charles Aznavour if I’m feeling fancy, Wu-Tang Clan if not.