SAYING GOODBYE TO A VISIONARY DESIGNER
Design buffs know architect Michael Graves for his groundbreaking and at times controversial buildings, such as the Portland Building (Oregon), the Team Disney Building (Burbank, California) and the Miele headquarters on Route 1 in Princeton. But if you’ve shopped at Target or JCPenney, chances are you have encountered—or maybe even purchased—a kitchen item designed by Graves. The acclaimed 80-year-old postmodernist and professor of architecture at Princeton University died in Princeton on March 12.
At the time of Graves’ death, Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton was in the middle of hosting an exhibition dedicated to his career called Past as Prologue. The exhibit, which commemorated 50 years of work with his design firm and closed April 12, included sculptures, paintings and designs for many of his iconic buildings.
Tom Moran, chief curator at Grounds for Sculpture, describes Graves as having a “very comprehensive vision. He touches on so many ideas that affect our lives.” Most notably, Graves sought to infuse architecture with humanism, “the idea that people are what the built environment is really all about,” says Ben Wintner, principal at Michael Graves Architecture & Design.
Michael Rockland, professor of American studies at Rutgers University, adds that Graves rejected ideas of modernism in an effort to revive more decorative motifs and lots of color, and he likens Graves to another American great. “The fact that he designed small, everyday things as well as buildings indicates that, like Frank Lloyd Wright, he was interested in the total environment, not just the houses or buildings themselves.”
To that end, in 1980 the Italian company Alessi commissioned Graves to produce a “coffee and tea piazza,” a gleaming, gorgeous piece which cost $25,000 and sold an unexpected 40 sets in one year. In 1985, Alessi asked for another one, which resulted in the “whistling bird” teakettle—more than 2 million have sold worldwide. The collaboration led to a revolutionary relationship with Target that democratized design, offering high-quality design at low cost to the masses. The Michael Graves line for Target reinvigorated common household items such as pepper grinders, toasters and garlic presses with a touch of whimsy and the unexpected. “Over 15 years, we brought to market more than 1,500 original products, at affordable prices,” Wintner says. Look for a special 30th-anniversary version of the kettle later this year.
HOMEGROWN HOT SAUCE
Two years ago, Jersey Barnfire Hot Sauce was born thanks to a surplus. When cofounder Austin D’Almeida grew too many chili peppers in his garden, he invited over an old friend for an evening of hot sauce making. That friend, John Sauchelli, happens to know his way around a kitchen; he’s the executive pastry chef at Maritime Parc in Jersey City.
“We made our first batch for us but then decided to bottle it as a gift for friends and family,” D’Almeida says. The new partners realized they were onto something when everyone asked for more. Sauchelli already had contacts in the business, and the two soon began selling Jersey Barnfire at farmers’ markets. “We sold out in three hours that first day at the Newton Farmers’ Market,” D’Almeida recalls. Like many New Jersey–based food entrepreneurs, the two worked with the Rutgers Food Innovation Center in Bridgeton to get the product ready for commercial sales. “They taught us everything,” D’Almeida says.
The two friends are passionate about their hot sauce and about New Jersey produce. D’Almeida still grows the hot peppers himself, though the plants have moved from the backyard to the basement to a local plot. “We’re trying our hand at farming this year,” he says. Everything else is sourced within New Jersey. “Our tomatoes, onions, black garlic, they all come from local farms,” says D’Almeida. Jersey Barnfire is currently available in two flavors—original and black garlic, with a ginger sauce debuting soon.
“Our hot sauce lends itself to cooking,” Sauchelli says. “There is a lot of depth and complexity and it’s really more of a marinade than just a hot sauce.” Seasonal sauces made with local strawberries and peaches will be available later this summer.
Jersey Barnfire is sold online, as well as at several restaurants, farmers’ markets and specialty stores throughout New Jersey. —Nancy DePalma