An Interview with Pat Block, Owner.
Photos by Stacey M. Adams
An edible Local Hero is an exceptional individual or organization working to create innovative, vibrant, and resilient local food systems in New Mexico. Last fall, edible readers nominated and voted for their favorite food artisans, growers, and advocates in nearly two dozen categories—including six new awards. Each issue of edible will contain interviews with several of the winners, spotlighting the important and exciting work they do. It is imperative to the local food movement that we come together as a community to support each other, our local economy, and our environment. Please join us in thanking these local heroes for being at the forefront of that effort.
Top left: Owners Patrick Block, Yvette De La O, and their son Desmond. Right: Prepping cucumbers. Bottom left: Escabeche, pickled jalapeños, and fermented pickles.
Pat Block started Barrio Brinery in 2014 to bring fine fermented foods to New Mexico. Block was born in Louisiana and raised in New Mexico, where his family has roots stretching back to the Spanish Colonial period. When he’s not making fermented foods, he enjoys cooking, bartending, travel, fishing, and bicycling. He is married to his partner in business and life, Yvette De La O, and they have a son, Desmond, who is also involved in Barrio Brinery.
How did you get to where you are now? What’s the backstory, and what was the moment that brought you to your current work?
For twenty-five years, I worked in state government with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, as well as bartending at Santa Fe Opera for most of that time. When I retired from state government, I wanted to do something that could join my love of cooking and my food and beverage experience in a creative business of my own. I saw fermented foods taking off in a bunch of places similar to Santa Fe. I did some market analysis, looked at local demographics, estimated the costs of starting and sustaining the business, and it seemed like a viable venture. When I first started telling people about the dream of a pickle shop, they fell into two groups: those who thought it was a great idea, and those who were totally confused.
What is a local food issue that is important to you? Why?
We have had great luck working with local farmers to source produce, especially pickling cucumbers when they are in season, but we have not found a consistent source for locally-grown cucumbers outside of the usual growing season. Going forward, we would like to work with local growers year-round, making our product even more local and sustainable, and shrinking our carbon footprint.
What makes Barrio Brinery products special?
The health benefits of fermentation are one big draw. We make our products right in the shop, by hand, and in small batches. We source ingredients locally whenever possible. This includes using New Mexico red chile pods in our pickles-a traditional pickle, but with a local twist. Customers also like the fact that we do our production work out in the open, so they can see how the whole process works.
Describe your perfect day in Santa Fe.
A perfect day in Santa Fe would be spent with Yvette, and would include a long bike ride, cooling off from the ride with a local beer, and dining with friends at one of our fine restaurants, topped off by some live music.
What is the best meal you have ever had? Who made it?
This has been one of the toughest questions to answer. I guess I’ve been lucky in experiencing many memorable meals. One of the main reasons we travel is to experience great food. We’ve had amazing culinary experiences in New Orleans, San Francisco, the Yucatán, and elsewhere. We have also enjoyed amazing meals at home.
We had a friend who loved traveling in Mexico, and unfortunately ended up dying from a brain tumor. Before he passed away, I spent a day preparing an authentic Yucatecan meal, including cochinita pibil. Both the cooking and the company made for a special meal.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever pickled? How was it?
Raw green chile. While the goal was to pickle strips of green chile into a crunchy, tasty, edible swizzle stick, it did not work out. The salt brine could not pickle the toughness out of the thick skin and it wasn’t the consistency I’d envisioned.
What are you most proud of in regard to your business?
That we started from scratch (and on a shoestring budget) as one of the first local businesses producing fermented food products commercially. I take pride in knowing that by working through the educational process with the state regulators, we have made a smoother path for other fermented food producers.
Fill in the Blank:
When I make pickles I always add New Mexico red chile to make it extra delicious.
I love our customers the most when it comes to my work and my passion because they allow me to see firsthand that handcrafted food has the power to make people happy.
If I weren’t doing what I’m doing now, I’d be fishing.
I hope customers of Barrio Brinery continue to tell their friends about us. Word of mouth has been our best form of promotion.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with edible readers?
I would encourage edible readers to shop local, shop small, learn more about the health benefits of fermented foods, and buy more pickles!