Only two years ago, the possibility of walking into a retail market and finding fish from Galilee, red shrimp from Spain, John Dory from New Zealand, loup de mer from the Mediterranean and dozens of other exotic fish from around the world was nil.
In those days, only first-rate restaurants were recipients of precious air-flown cargo from the world over.
Things are different today.
Flying Foods International Inc., a wholesale outlet, provides the everyday cook retail access to exotic fish caught within 12 hours of shipping to Los Angeles. Some fish, such as crayfish from the Mediterranean, still are alive when brought in on ice.
And the trend could continue.
"Laymen in the food world are becoming aware of gourmet foods and are willing to prepare it at home. They can come to our retail market and pay wholesale prices once available only to the restaurants," said Paul Moriates, one of three partners of Flying Foods International.
Products on Display
Indeed, the retail store, which also is a wholesale supplier to restaurants and hotels, serves as a showroom for restaurateurs who are unfamiliar with products. "It's easier to show them a product than to describe it on the phone. They can buy one piece to try instead of a case," Moriates said.
Flying Foods International Inc. (originally Flying Fish Inc.) stumbled into a major food explosion when it opened four years ago.
Moriates, who was food and beverage controller at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, and partner Walter Martin, who was assistant to the general manager of the hotel, decided to try their hand at a business that shipped foods plentiful in one area to wherever there was a demand.
"We found we could tap places around the world to supply restaurants and hotels in New York," Moriates said. "What we didn't realize at the time was that a major trend was brewing. We stumbled into the food explosion--people were becoming aware of gourmet foods and willing to pay the price. Once, however, we caught sight of what was happening we started to concentrate and become the best at it."
But getting started was not all that easy.
"It was the dead of winter and we worked out of a room in the back of Walter's apartment. We'd leave the window open to keep the room at refrigerator temperature and lug the products three flights up and down the stairs."
Then the two, with an added third partner, Andrew Udelson, worked out of a warehouse near John F. Kennedy International Airport. The company soon outgrew the warehouse when it began supplying cities outside of New York. "We started supplying 50 restaurants and hotels in Boston and found the demand was nationwide," Moriates said.
They also realized that Los Angeles would have to be the company's bi-coastal headquarters. Flying Foods International opened its headquarters in Los Angeles five months ago.
"We had already established a reputation with the media, so it was easier to go to chefs like Wolfgang Puck and tell about our products," Moriates said.
So far, Los Angeles restaurants such as Rex, Chinois on Main, Michael's, Trumps, L'Orangerie, L'Ermitage, Les Anges, Max Au Triangle and dozens more have been very responsive. Then something interesting happened.
"Restaurateurs like Piero Selvaggio of Valentino and Primi and other chefs started to recommend our warehouse in Santa Monica as a source to their customers. It was then we decided to make our products available to the consumer," Moriates said.
That's where you will find squid or cuttlefish ink sold in vials to add color and flavor to homemade pasta. There are tiger prawns from Indonesia, red mullet from Brittany, langoustine from France, St. Peter's (John Dory) from the Sea of Galilee, turbot from waters off the Netherlands, salmon from Norway, jou de lotte (cheeks of monkfish), which are so delicious when pan-fried and served with lemon.
Were other restaurateurs resentful of having their exclusivity chipped away?
"Not at all," Moriates said. "In fact, they feel good because it only adds to the awareness of gourmet foods. It can only help them when a client is knowledgeable about an unusual product. The more experience they have, the better it is for the restaurant. Besides, chefs like the idea that their friends and clients have a place to go to find products found only in restaurants. They also know that the layman will still come to them for their expertise in preparing fish."
Greens Imported, Too