We sat down *virtually* with Abbye the creator of Rhea to talk about sourcing ingredients, layering flavors, and hand and craft skills.
Tell us a little bit about yourself! What do you love to do?
I am an artist, writer, and chef currently living in Maine. I am inspired by exploring all of the different ways ingredients from nature can be transformed using old world techniques like natural dye, fermentation, curing, preservation, stitch, weave, etc. Hand and craft skills that are unfortunately not as common as they once were. I grew up with these skills from my parents who were back-to-the-landers in Maine, but then in writing A Wilder Life with my co-author Celestine Maddy, and then in getting my graduate degree in textiles, it kind of all came together.
How did you come to create Rhea?
I have wanted to start Rhea for a really long time now. My ultimate vision for it is to become a kind of sensory emporium that preserves the most beautiful parts of nature into goods for the pantry, goods for the body (beauty stuff coming soon!), goods for the table, and goods for the home.
The inspiration for Rhea came from the notion of colormen in the 17th century -- they were the first artisans to sell mixed pigments as paint and would sell these amazing colors like cochineal (crimson from beetles that was once more valuable than gold) and lapis lazuli (blue from gemstones) alongside other imported goods like vanilla beans and chocolate and peppercorns and silk. I want Rhea to be something like that -- a pleasure apothecary for the senses.
I love how carefully you source all your ingredients! What's your process for that?
I think A LOT about materials. My thinking on ingredient sourcing comes from my studio art background and my interest in the environment. We rarely take the opportunity to think about where the things we buy come from, or where they are grown, or who is making them. I love researching stories behind raw ingredients and the places they come from.
Why Lemon and Garlic?
They are the two most essential ingredients to cook with, in my opinion! At the beginning of the pandemic, I was living in Brooklyn and certain ingredients were flying off grocery store shelves and seemed like they might not return. A friend of mine said -- very sadly -- "say goodbye to lemons for a while." I wanted to find a way to make sure you could always have lemons and garlic on hand to cook with. Plus, they are two flavor profiles that can find their way into almost any style of cooking -- bright and salty and savory and deep.
Any cooking tips?
Layer flavors. If you start with a great pantry full of high quality vinegars, olive oils, preserves, and ferments, you can totally transform a dish and make it seem like you've spent all day cooking. Keep the pantry well stocked and cooking can come together quickly.
If you could have a tea or take a Boketto moment (a moment of daydreaming and of rest) with any person dead or alive who would it be? What kind of tea would you have?
Honestly? My fiance. He's the person I want to be with for as many minutes as a day as I can find. He's a constant source of inspiration and a calm in any storm. He's an avid strong British tea drinker -- loves PG Tips. I'm actually working on a few tea blends at the moment for Rhea and am loving tulsi and verbena!
What's something you want people to know about you that I wouldn't think to ask?
Hmmm... I am substantially obsessed with visiting grocery stores when I travel and have been known to buy second suitcases just to cart back spices or jams or sometimes even cheese(!) from wherever I travel.
Capricorn / Virgo / Virgo -- very earthy!
Shop Rhea here.