A specialty food shop owner’s guide to stocking your pantry

Charles de Viel Castel didn’t ever see himself as the owner of a gourmet food shop. However, when the financier-turned-jewelry designer decamped with his family to the Hamptons amid the pandemic, he was unable to find certain key, quality ingredients that were more readily available in the city.

This realization launched a flurry of planning and purchasing, which resulted in the opening of L’Épicuriste, a high-end specialty food store catering to chefs, guests, hosts and everyone in between. On the shelves, there’s a mix of local and global products, ranging from Moroccan spices to knives from Japan. Oh, and don’t forget the French-imported macarons and chocolate

While it may seem like there’s a disconnect between the kind of “shopping” de Viel Castel does to identify merchandise for L’Epicuriste and the shopping one does at an everyday supermarket, I believe there are lessons to be learned about better stocking your home kitchen. 

Salon Food spoke with de Viel Castel about his big tips for those who want to feel a little more excitement and fulfillment the next time they open their pantry.

Let’s face it: Cooking night after night — even if you love to cook! — can be a bit of a slog. That’s why it’s important to find ways to imbue the process with little jolts of joy. For de Viel Castel, that means paying attention to the packaging. 

“I think the ‘designer side’ of me believes that the way a product looks matters, right?” he says. “It has to be delicious — that goes without saying. But when I see beautiful Italian artichokes packed in a good jar of olive oil, all in beautiful packaging, that does have meaning to me — and it impacts my decision-making.” 

So, whether you’re shopping for ingredients or cookware (like, say, this enamel butter warmer by which I’m completely enchanted), don’t be afraid to reach for something simply because it’s beautiful. If it makes you smile in the aisles, it will likely do the same in your home kitchen.

While it may sound counterintuitive, one of de Viel Castel’s favorite feelings is actually when he sees a customer leave the shop with just one ingredient. “It means they were looking for something very specific, and we filled a need,” he says. 

Most often, this is the case with specialty international specialties — like tinned octopus in marinara or white soy sauce — but it’s also true for domestic ingredients, such as locally-roasted coffee beans or farm-fresh produce

Try this approach in your home kitchen. Blend unique, globally-inspired finds with good stuff from local producers, and you’ll have plenty of options for quick dinner inspiration. Speaking of which . . .

Since the Hamptons is an area that has a fair amount of people coming and going — whether because they’re vacationing or simply part-time residents — L’Épicuriste is stocked with several options for gourmet, pantry-safe meals that come together quickly. One of de Viel Castel’s favorites is a pre-made risotto that is ready in 10 minutes, using just four quarts of boiling water. 

Keep an eye out next time you’re shopping for pre-made dinners that speak to you. Frontier Soup kits, Jain Family Foods classic daal and Momofuku’s spicy soy noodles are all good options.

While L’Épicuriste will absolutely add some seasonal items to their shelves, like pumpkin seeds and apple-based ingredients, De Viel Castel says they really specialize in classic staples that will never go out of style. 

“Everyone wants a good pasta, a good olive oil or a good French mustard,” he says. 

Figure out what the classics of your kitchen look like — which may mean canned San Marzanosmiso paste, smoked paprika or soy sauce — and ensure you always have good versions of those on hand.

L’Épicuriste also has options for those with sweet tooths, from orange slices dipped in delectable French chocolate to macarons imported from Paris. There’s nothing like opening your own pantry at home and finding a small, shelf-stable sweet. Keep a sleeve of tasty shortbread or candied fruit as a treat for you or any company who might stop by.

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