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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

MOVERS and SHAKERS: Andrea Siebert, Founder and Managing Director of Marisol® Sea Salt Our Coverage Sponsored by Fresh Origins

Andrea Siebert

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Andrea Siebert is the founder and managing director of Marisol® Sea Salt (Boer & Siebert Lda.) based in the South of Portugal. In 2001, she relocated from Germany to the Algarve coast to start with Nico Boer († 2011) the business of artisan sea salt. Having worked as a PR consultant and IT journalist up to then, Andrea has found her passion for the trade of the Algarve’s Flor de Sal and traditional sea salt ever since.

The Marisol natural salt company did its first steps into business from the kitchen table of Andrea’s house in Germany in 2000, by selling the salt by the kilo to private gourmets over the Internet. As the business grew steadily and so did the range of products, namely the Flos Salis® ceramic containers with flaky Flor de Sal established in 2003, Andrea turned Marisol into a limited company in 2006. The company is based in the city of Olhão since 2008 and operates with a small but dedicated staff to produce and market their high-end gourmet salts.

Andrea’s way into the sea salt business started in the 1990s when she frequently visited the Algarve for vacation and enjoyed the fish and shellfish specialties, which require sea salt in the preparation or Flor de Sal for the finishing touch. The kick-off was an opportunity in 2000 to write a full page article about the Algarve’s artisan salt in a German newspaper. For the research, her later business partner Nico introduced Andrea to a local salt pan producer, and the idea for Marisol sea salt was born.

While setting up the business and learning every day more about the traditional sal pan production, Andrea’s scientific education, with a degree in cell biology, and her PR, writing and marketing experience helped her to move things forward, but maybe even more important was her passion for culinary specialties. Andrea has been a member of the Slow Food movement in Germany and still today loves food and cooking. She is also the co-author of “The Algarve Fish Book”, which she wrote with Nico Boer in 2005 on the typical fish species on Algarve market stalls and how to prepare them.

Andrea lives with her partner and two of her three kids in a coastal village near Olhão, in the “Ria Formosa” Nature reserve. She is convinced that with Marisol, she has established a sustainable business, which relies on the natural resources of the sun and the Atlantic ocean, which helps to preserve the ecology and natural beauty of the Eastern Algarve’s sandy shore, and which provides employment and business for local workers and salt pan producers. We are thrilled to present Andrea Siebert as our latest Mover and Shaker!  Peachy Deegan interviewed Andrea for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: What is your first culinary memory, and first memory of salt in particular?
Andrea Siebert: 
The first memory I would call a culinary one is from a vacation in Greece when I was 15 years old. We were a bunch of teenagers with 2 supervisors, travelling in an old Mercedes van on the Chalkidike peninsula. When we stopped for breakfast at a local farmer’s market, I got myself some freshly picked peaches and a full-fat Greek yogurt. The peach was juicy and had just the right ripeness. It tasted delicious, especially with the yogurt. 
Salt hasn’t played an important role in my childhood, maybe because I grew up in rural Bavaria, far from the sea and with refined rock salt only. If at all, I remember being advised not to put too much of it on my egg. Things changed when in my mid-twenties I came across the French “Sel Gris” and later, in my thirties, the Portuguese artisan sea salt. For me, artisan sea salt has the perfect taste and accentuates the intrinsic flavors of your food. 

What should most people know about salt that they don't know?
People often think that salt tastes salty and that’s it, no matter where it comes from or how it is produced. Their point is that salt means sodium chloride, which is what the taste buds on our tongues can feel as salty. There is, however, a big difference in taste between common table salt and artisan sea salt. The reason lays in about 2-3% of mineral salts other than just Sodium chloride, like Calcium, Magnesium and Potassium salts, to be found only in natural, unrefined salt. The mixture of all these minerals results in the typical mild and balanced taste of artisan sea salt. Refined table salt on the other hand has undergone washing and artificial drying, which destroys the other components and leads to a 99,9% pure Sodium chloride content, let alone anti-clogging additives. So yes, it matters where your salt comes from and how it is produced.

What are the greatest defining factors about the variances among salts?
The most common definition is by the source: rock salt from salt mines or sea salt, the latter often being called “solar salt” in order to emphasize it results from the evaporation of the seawater by sun and wind. Another classification relies on the intended use: table salt in this context means it is a food-grade salt, suitable for human consumption, whereas there is also inferior salt suitable for livestock and then all the industrial salt, used as a raw material in the chemical industry and also as road salt in the winter. Interestingly enough, the vast majority of the worldwide salt production goes into the industrial category and not into the food chain.

How would you compare and contrast Germany and Portugal and what should our readers know about each?
What first comes to mind, of course, is the climate. In Germany, summer is short; there is a lot of rain, cloudy grey skies and harsh winters. Portugal has a temperate coastal climate and especially the southernmost Algarve province where I live, is called “Europe’s Florida” with on average 300 days of sunshine per year. Be it the weather or not, the culture of both countries is strikingly different. I
 only realized how “German” I actually was, when in the early years in Portugal, I found myself running against invisible walls: Bureaucracy is quite an issue in all Southern European countries and I had to learn my lesson in becoming more patient. If you run a business, you need to be efficient, which is not easy in a laid-back society where things often are put off until tomorrow.  H
owever, on my trips back to Germany in past 13 years, I felt a growing distance to the German culture with its craving for, yes, efficiency even in family life and friendship. The Portuguese culture is an extremely friendly one, and people are welcoming and interested in each other’s life. You can always talk things through and many issues can be solved if not the straight way then with an extra curve or two. 
Life in the Algarve, with its many foreign residents and immigrants, is definitely multicultural and so is my company; we all have to deal with the challenge of different backgrounds, as staff members and freelancers do not only come from Portugal and Germany, but also from Canada, the UK and the Ukraine. Aside from the sun and the beach, this is what makes life here rich and colorful. 

What do you love to create most with sea salt?
As a good businesswoman, I should now say that fish baked in a crust of salt is the best culinary creation ever, as the preparation needs a lot of salt thrown away after the procedure. I won’t, forgive me, for the dishes that benefit most from sea salt, to my taste, are simple ones, like grilled fish, or “Caldeirada”, a typical Algarve fish soup, or “Favas Ricas”, sautéed broad beans with two types of sausages, or just a Ratatouille. Take few but premium ingredients, seasoned with artisan sea salt, and you will find the dish’s taste shaped and enriched, just like a natural flavor enhancer.  
Flor de Sal, the cream of the salt pan, is another story: the flakes are the perfect finishing salt and absolutely delicious when sprinkled over a slice of Foie gras or just a tomato salad with some olive oil. 

Please tell us about the Slow Food movement in Germany.
Actually, this movement started out in Italy, with Germany being the first other country joining in. Let me quote from their web site (www.slowfood.com):
Slow Food is a global grassroots organization with supporters in 150 countries around the world who are linking the pleasure of good food with a commitment to their community and the environment. It was founded in Italy in 1989 to counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world. Today, the movement has over 100,000 members joined in 1,500 convivia – local chapters – worldwide, as well as a network of 2,000 food communities who practice small-scale and sustainable production of quality foods.

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?
Definitely my family: Being a medical doctor in the countryside, my father introduced me to medicine and science and shared his love for nature with me, while my mom managed both the business and a family with five kids, and thus taught me how to effectively organize things. My favorite aunt, a teacher for History and German, added the love for literature, fine arts and also issues of democracy and politics. Altogether, they set the example in how to always try your best – in what you love to do most as well as in the daily routines. 

What are you proudest of and why?
On a professional level, I am proud to have started the salt company without a budget and kept it alive for 13 years now, against all odds, with products and brands that stand in for craftsmanship and sustainability. If you start a business, you care for it as if it was your child, and you want to see it grow and in the end become independent of you. Which brings me to my three kids, which I am proudest of in my private life, as any mother would be.

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do?
Science always fascinated me and if I could, I would love to work more scientifically, not necessarily as a biologist; it could also be physics (which I’d love to study) or science writing. The artisan salt gardens offer fascinating insights in the world of chemistry and physics, not to forget biology, with complete food chains based on salty environments. Normally however, a professional business day is filled with sales, marketing strategy and financial and accounting issues, and for a change, I like to retreat with a book on quantum physics or the like (written for normal people, of course). 

What honors and awards have you received in your profession?
Ever since moving to rural Portugal, I haven’t lived in an environment that offers many opportunities in that respect. For the product, brand and company:
- Certiplanet certification for artisan sea salt and artisan salt production since 2005
- Kosher certification of Marisol salts by Natural Food Certifiers since 2004
- New product of the year award for Marisol Flor de Sal / Flos Salis at Alimentaria trade fair Lisbon in 2010 and 2013
- One-star-rating for Marisol Flos Salis at Great Taste Awards, London, UK, 2013

What one word best describes you and why?
Strength, or call it resilience.

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan and Portugal?
Bubby’s restaurant in Tribeca’s Hudson Street, because they prepare their American heritage dishes with Marisol traditional salt. The food there is delicious and I love the setting.

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan and Portugal?
It would be Dean & De Luca if they’d carry our salt. In Portugal, the vintage shops by Catarina Portas in Lisbon and Oporto, who revived genuine Portuguese heritage products like Marisol sea salt under her brand “Passos em Volta”, meaning you always come back. 

If you could hire anybody who would it be and why?
Michelle Obama; I admire what she does to popularize issues of health, food and nutrition and she would be the perfect ambassador for Marisol sea salt.

What is your favorite drink?
Usually just water, but for alcoholic drinks I fancy a mojito.

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a cocktail party?
Can’t think of, I haven’t been to a cocktail party in ages.

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan and Portugal?
Bubby’s in Tribeca, see above. If I fancy a decent gourmet dinner in the Algarve, the Ocean restaurant in the Vila Vita Resort in Porches is my favorite choice; Austrian 2-Michelin star chef Hans Neuner creates amazing dishes from local ingredients, and the sea view is breathtaking.

What is your favorite Manhattan book or favorite character in Manhattan literature?
“The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love” by Oscar Hijuelos struck me when I read it in the mid-nineties, first in a German translation. This was when Cuban music became big in Germany and the story of the two brothers and musicians completely dragged me away.

Who would you like to be for a day and why?
An astronaut, watching our blue planet earth from outer space. If for a day, I wouldn’t have to care about years of training and exercise.

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why?
Instead of my name, I’d love to see Marisol Sea Salt promoted on Times Square.

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience?
Marching from my hotel in Downtown to the Fancy Food Show at Javits Center in non-fitting shoes – never attend trade shows in new shoes!

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else? and Portugal?
Navigate through the City with the Chrysler building as an orientation. In Portugal: wake up and look at the tide from the bedroom window.

If you could have dinner with any person living or passed, who would it be and why?
I would love to have one last dinner with my business partner Nico Boer, who died of a heart attack in 2011. Although we had our disputes, he was always committed to the company and I miss his companionship. 

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience?
We visited Central Park one evening after the Fancy Food Show, and stopped by to listen to the sound check of a sixties revival band. I was too jetlagged to come back later for the concert.

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world?
Having created qualified jobs and employing people for fair wages in a rural region with poor infrastructure, and contributing through my business to the preservation of Southern Portugal’s nature and coastline. Environmental and social issues have always played a major role in my life (in Germany, I was an active member of the Green party and engaged in local politics in the city parliament).

What do you think is most underrated and overrated in Manhattan?
Overrated: Shake Shack – folks, it’s fries and burgers, after all. 
Underrated: Central Park, the air is breathable and the green soothes the eye.

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it?
Culinary Kings & Queens – it is inspirational to read about other food enthusiasts.

Have you tried The Peachy Deegan yet and if not, why not?
Nope, sorry, my Manhattan experience is limited to a one-time business trip so far. I will try it next time.

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?
My ancestors from my father’s side ran a spice import business in the Czech city of Brno, which I only learned years after being in business with Marisol salt.

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?
Just write to andrea@marisol.biz or visit www.marisol.biz





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