hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News & Issues October 2019


Bottling the secret sauces

Chef’s wholesale line of condiments covers aioli to agrodolce



Longtime area chef David Britton makes an extensive line of small-batch condiments at Dakine Cuisine, a business he started in Glens Falls in 2004. Joan K. Lentini photo


Longtime area chef David Britton makes an extensive line of small-batch condiments at Dakine Cuisine, a business he started in Glens Falls in 2004. Joan K. Lentini photo


Contributing writer


The kitchen is quiet on a September morning at the headquarters of Dakine Cuisine: For the moment, the stainless-steel workstations are blank, gleaming canvases on which a swirl of flavors will be blended later in the day.

David Britton, the chef and proprietor, leans against the steel counter as if taking respite from an exhausting marathon, which in a culinary sense is accurate.

Britton, who for the past 20 years has worked as head chef and in some cases owner of a series of fine restaurants in the region, started Dakine Cuisine as an entrepreneurial sideline.

In 2004, he and his wife, Cristina, began producing their own line of flavor-infused fruit vinegars and aiolis as well as vinegar-based glaze reductions known as agrodolce.

It was a logical move, given that Britton had built a culinary reputation on using plastic drizzle bottles like magic wands.

“What I really am is a flavor profile specialist,” he said, after pausing to take stock of his mission.
The wholesale following for his aiolis and vinegar reductions is both loyal and growing. In any given week, Britton and his staff produce up to 800 gallons to ship to restaurants across New York and beyond.

Even so, Britton decided to take on a monumental challenge over the summer when the new owners of the iconic Siro’s restaurant in Saratoga Springs tapped him to run their kitchen during track season.

“It was a remarkable assignment considering Siro’s incredible heritage and the expectations of the clientele,” he said. “But I knew I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t take the challenge.”

Britton made his mark on the continental menu at Siro’s with his aiolis and vinegar glazes. The result was new vigor for the restaurant’s cannelloni of smoked roasted eggplant with rosemary garlic agrodolce. The tuna sashimi minute steak was glazed in Britton’s golden sriracha, and the fritto misto seafood appetizer was enhanced with his saffron aioli.

Britton said he believes the personal stamp he put on the menu at Siro’s was well received overall, though there were some doubters.

“I paid homage to their chop house tradition, but I don’t cook like that,” Britton said. “I added elevations with the agrodolce and from former menus I’ve worked with over the years, and we nailed it.”

Britton added that agrodolce’s transformational powers over food are so profound, publications such as Bon Appetit have referred to it as a lifestyle.

“Commodity balsamic glaze has destroyed consumers’ interpretation of agrodolce,” he said. “Not only flavor but technique in preparation makes agrodolce a contemporary condiment. It’s the foundation of my cuisine, not a fad.”


Sour and sweet
In a dark blue dress shirt with spectacles in a matching hue, Britton moved deftly about the kitchen to take stock of current projects.

“I prefer to call this a food laboratory instead of a kitchen,” he explained, lifting the lid on a Jacuzzi-sized steel pot filled to the brim with the forthcoming batch of agrodolce. As he gently stirred the 40 gallons of thickening pepper-based vinegar syrup, habanero peppers bobbed to the surface like toys in a bathtub.

“The agave habanero agrodolce hits you in three phases,” Britton said, leaning toward the pot to inhale. “Sweet and sour are the most dynamic flavors on the tongue.”

It’s a flavor dynamic for which this line of cooking glazes are named.
“Agrodolce is a Mediterranean term which literally means sour and sweet,” he said. “The French call it gastrique.”

Each of Britton’s 16 agrodolce flavors has a story born of experience behind the stove.
“When I worked at the Arizona Biltmore, there was a duck dish that had a blackberry peppercorn sauce,” he said, pointing to a bottle of deep purple blackberry peppercorn agrodolce.
The flavors so far range from hibiscus to shiitake mushroom, Medjool date, Thai barbecue and ponzu shoyu.

“We’re a lab, so we’re always working on new flavors,” Britton explained. “Our kombu agrodolce has a seaweed base. It’s the essence of the sea and perfect on an oyster or filet of fish.”
But Britton and his staff didn’t stop at enhancing entrees and appetizers. They also created a line of vinegar bar syrups in more than a dozen flavor combinations such as vanilla grapefruit, white fig, pomegranate anise and smoked olive. Their Bloody Mary bar syrup won the 2017 Bloody Mary competition at the annual Wine and Dine for the Arts fund-raiser in Albany.

“The bar syrups are good for traditional mixed drinks and also the sober-curious crowd if mixed with seltzer or tonic,” Britton said. “It tastes just like a cocktail.”

Asked about the details of his recipes, Britton demurred.
“They are somewhat proprietary,” he said with a smile. “It’s the process of brewing vinegar and sugar. Some balsamic glazes on the market have starches and fillers to thicken them; ours don’t.”


Southwest to Northeast
Britton first learned the art of flavor alchemy in 1978 during a three-year apprenticeship with the American Culinary Federation at the famed Biltmore Resort in his native Arizona. There he honed his skills in everything from pastry making to butchery to the elements of proper food sanitation.

“The learning experience was extraordinary, and it set the tone for my career,” he recalled.
Britton’s time at the Biltmore was followed by stints at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel, Calif., the Manili Bay Hotel and Resort (now the Four Seasons) in Lanai, Hawaii, and the Inn at Little Washington in Virginia.

When he moved to upstate New York in 1999, Britton took a position as executive chef at The Sagamore Resort’s Trillium restaurant on Lake George.

In 2004, he became the chef-owner of Springwater Bistro in Saratoga Springs. It was at about that time that he and his wife began to market their condiments, beginning with the aiolis.
Their five aioli flavors – sriracha, curry, wasabi, saffron and garlic – remain popular today.
“We needed a business name to start our line of aiolis, so we came up with Dakine Cuisine, and it’s the umbrella for everything we do,” Britton said.

He explained that “dakine” is a slang word that roughly translates to “the kind of thing you like.”
“It’s used a lot in Hawaii, as in the kind of salad, pizza, or condiment you like,” Britton said.
Also under Dakine Cuisine’s umbrella is the long-running Pies on Wheels, a portable wood-fired pizza oven that travels to places such as the Saratoga Race Course, private parties and food fairs.

Dakine Cuisine’s headquarters originally were in a shared space in the cavernous Shirt Factory at 71 Lawrence St. But earlier this year, Britton moved his operation to a space twice as large in the nearby “annex” of the Shirt Factory, at 18 Curran Lane. The additional space allows Britton and his staff to fill orders for restaurants and retailers -- and also to operate as a co-packer for other small-batch labels.

Wholesale orders are available in quantities ranging from quarts to 10-liter plastic jugs.
“The entire underbelly of wholesale keeps us busy,” Britton said.
He pointed to a rolling rack filled with 10-liter jugs ready for shipment.
“It’s a 150-gallon order for one customer,” he explained.


Exploring new combinations
Nestor Pla, who worked under Britton this summer at Siro’s and now works at Yono’s Restaurant in Albany, said he loves the versatility of Britton’s agrodolce glazes.

“I use it as a finishing ingredient in sauces and on meat and vegetables – and as a base for dressings, marinades and cocktails,” he said.

Area retailers selling Dakine Cuisine products include Saratoga Olive Oil Co., which carries the agrodolce vinegar glazes, and Saratoga Pantry, a gourmet specialty store that sells the drinking vinegars.

Britton hopes to set up a small retail space at his new location. He also offers individual sales through the Dakine Cuisine website, with prices starting at $10 to $14 depending on the product.
As demand for his products continues to increase, Britton keeps coming up with new concepts. Several months ago, Dakine launched a line of New York apple cider vinegar syrups in flavors such as mango, ginger, maple and rosemary.

“They’re great as a glaze on chicken or pork, or as an addition to seltzer or cocktails,” Britton said.

He’s also incubating his own spin on pickled ginger slices. Britton’s version has slightly sweet overtones, thanks to an unhurried marinating process using his ginger kaffir lime bar syrup.
As with the agave habanero agrodolce brewing nearby, the distinct flavors of his pickled ginger seem to arrive at specifically choreographed moments on the palate before uniting in a spirited tango. It’s the pleasurable reaction to the vinegar reductions that he loves reading on the face of someone trying them for the first time.

“It doesn’t take much to brighten a dish or a drink,” Britton said, securing the black apron strings around his waist as he began his day’s work.

The lab was open, and Britton was ready to let the creative process begin.

Visit www.dakinecuisine.com for more information about Britton’s products.

Britton and his Dakine Cuisine vinegar glazes and syrups will be one of the featured participants at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center’s 2019 Wine and Food Festival on Oct. 4-5. Visit www.SPAC.org for more information.