When the phone rings and the voice on the other end says he’s Alain Ducasse, what do you do? If you’re Judith Gifford, making handmade jams and marmalades in a tiny village in France, you hang up. “I’d never heard of him,” she relates with a laugh. “I thought he was a man selling storm windows.”
Twice the world-famous chef called back, and twice Gifford hung up before he could explain who he was and why he was calling. Finally, on the fourth try, she listened. Which is how, that day in 1999, she learned that she and her husband, Nick, and their literal cottage business called Tea Together were doing something very right.
“Ducasse was looking for products for his new website and his store in Paris,” Gifford says, “and his scouts had told him about us.” The Giffords were British documentary filmmakers who, in 1991, moved with their three young children to Saint-Rémy-au-Bois in the far north of France. They took up conserve-making as a hobby. Then, as film work dried up, they got serious about it and in 1995 founded Tea Together (short for “people enjoying tea together”).
They use only two ingredients—organic fruit and sugar. Ducasse began stocking Tea Together products, and invited them to do a tasting at the Paris store. “It was a fantastic kick start,” Gifford says. Today, Tea Together is served in 40 four- and five-star hotels around the world and sold on teatogether.com.
But not until late last year did Tea Together have a retail store. How it wound up at 356 Millburn Avenue in Millburn (973-218-6769) is a story in itself. When Gifford was growing up in London, her best friend was her next-door neighbor, Joanna (now D’Angelo), who became a mid-level administrator at the United Nations in New York. The two remain close. Gifford asked D’Angelo for help bringing Tea Together to the United States.
D’Angelo liked the products so much she quit her job of 30 years at the U.N. and became Tea Together’s American marketing director. She recruited some Jersey people she knew, and they proposed a vacant storefront in Millburn, which Nick now describes as “this nice haute bourgeois town.” The Giffords, whom Judith admits, “at first didn’t even know where New Jersey was,” flew over to give the store the look of a French country library, with armchairs, a long table, and wooden bookcases to hold the products.
The pear chutney with cardamom and star anise (No. 26) manages to retain the taste of pear in the presence of two assertive spices. Provençal figs with rum (No. 17) is lush with chunks of fresh fig; in a word, it’s ravishing. The marmalades, such as lemon with black currant (No. 10) or fresh lime (No. 32) are complex and sophisticated. Jars are 70 milliliters ($4.95), and 11 ounces ($18.95). Back in Saint-Rémy-au-Bois, one staffer chops and prepares the fruit, two cook the conserves in traditional copper bowls, one bottles, and two label and package.
“We were told for years it wouldn’t work,” says Nick, “but we always thought the quality would come through.” It does.Click here to leave a comment