The Buddhapesto clan: (l-r) Zane, Maria,
Gregor and Edison.
PHOTO: Shannon DeCelle
Maria Gandara discovered pesto, she began experimenting with
a recipe of her own—an experiment that is now a rapidly growing
and a half years ago, Maria Gandara would tuck her children
into bed only to find herself working hours into the night
sewing buttons and lapels onto vintage clothing as her only
means of work. A wife and mother of two, Gandara had given
up nursing school six years earlier, upon finding out
that she was pregnant with her first child, son Zane Raven
(now 10). Her husband, Gregor Trieste, an actor, was doing
some commercial painting and carpentry work to support the
family at the time as well.
be sitting there working late at night, and my hands were
bleeding,” Gandara says now. “We were making a living; I was
making it at my own pace, and I could stay home and be there
for the children, but I kept thinking, ‘It’s still not enough.’
By the time their second child, now-6-year-old daughter Edison
Blue, was 10 months old, the couple knew that they needed
to find a better way to financially support their growing
Gandara was still working as an at-home seamstress for the
New York City vintage clothing line of close friend Sharon
Broit, who suggested Gandara to try and market the homemade
basil pesto she served to her friends, who loved it and jokingly
referred to it as “organic crack.”
After bringing up the idea to her husband, the couple decided
to give it a shot, and went for a test run at a local farmers’
market. “I thought Sharon was crazy,” says Gandara. “But then
after the first week of going out there, hundreds of orders
came in. Ever since then we’ve been crazy; I don’t know whether
to hug her or hurt her,” she says jokingly.
Buddhapesto, named on a whim after the family’s pet Chihuahua,
Buddha, has since been an ongoing organic-pesto presence in
the Hudson Valley. Gandara and Trieste operate their family
business directly from their home in Cornwallville, Greene
County, and supply their pesto to more than 30 stores in the
Hudson Valley, along with routinely attending five farmers’
markets in the region and the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival
Gandara is still reeling from the response that she’s received
from her product. The recipe is simple enough; her ingredients,
which she’s happy to reveal, include fresh basil, Italian
parsley, pure olive oil, imported pecorino Romano cheese and
pignoli nuts, fresh garlic, tri-colored pepper and sea salt.
When people ask her why they should choose her pesto, she
simply attributes it to the painstaking procedure that goes
into each 8-ounce container. Gandara rises between 3 and 4
AM to chop, blend and package her pesto, a daily ritual she
follows to make sure her product is always fresh.
the ingredients are pretty simple,” she says. ”But it’s the
measurements and the love and the really hard effort and consistency
that I’ve been putting into it over the years. The fact is
that [Buddhapesto] started out with just the love, and trying
to keep our family together.”
Trieste cuts in at this point: “It started with desperation
too,” he reminds her with a laugh.
Gandara’s daily efforts leave their mark: As she receives
a visitor, her discarded, splotched apron lies nearby (having
just finished a batch of pesto 20 minutes earlier), and a
distinct aroma of garlic and basil with a hint of cheese seems
to cloak the house. “We’re desensitized from the smell now,”
says Trieste with a grin as he leans back.
This is literally one of the first few moments that he and
Gandara have been able to relax in the past few days, but
they’re in good spirits. It’s not hard to see why: In addition
to their weekly orders from Hudson Valley stores and farmer’s
markets, Buddhapesto has just completed production of and
shipped out its first order to the international organic food
chain, Whole Foods Market.
After making several attempts themselves at getting in touch
with Northeast company representatives, a buying manager from
Whole Foods finally approached Gandara and Trieste in November
at a festival in Warwick cutting up pesto when a Whole Foods
card flashes in front of my face,” Gandara remembers excitedly.
“I said, ‘Oh, I’ve been waiting for you. Where have you been?’
One month later, they signed with a distributing company,
McMahon’s Farm, in Hopewell Junction. Today the family business
has an official contract with 16 Whole Foods locations in
New York state, New Jersey and Connecticut; Buddhapesto is
due to hit the shelves by this week.
that we see what’s really happening to us, we think, ‘Wow,
we really are in the infancy stages of our business,” says
Gandara. “We don’t have any idea what this rea*lly means.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought when I was
younger, [that] I want to grow up and be a pesto maker.”
Gandara had never tried pesto before she moved to California
more than 20 years ago. But after sampling what she still
refers to as “the elixir of the gods,” she began experimenting
with her own recipe. Over the years, she worked at perfecting
it, and her pesto became a hit among the small circle of family
and friends to whom she occasionally served it.
wouldn’t change a thing about it,” she says. “You’ve got all
of these palates to please, but after years of trying and
really honing in the ingredients and measurements, I’ve stuck
to a flat-across-the-board-to-the-masses approach.”
One thing Gandara and Trieste are especially proud of is the
fact that they keep their product as local as possible. Local
basil farmers supply their produce from May through September.
During the colder months, Buddhapesto ships in basil from
Georgia, Florida and California to keep up with the demand.
In the spring, their pesto was sent for microbiology testing
at Cornell University to pass inspection for the Food and
Drug Administration. Buddhapesto was officially approved for
refrigeration storage up to six weeks. When researchers suggested
that lemon preservative could be added to tack on a few extra
weeks of shelf life, Gandara and Trieste refused, because
they wanted to keep their product as natural as possible.
The couple believe their commitment to freshness is necessary
to keep their promise of providing a wholesome food to the
community. While the long hours and relentless routine of
prepping and processing can seem tedious, Gandara and Trieste
say the labor is worth it.
do work hard,” says Gandara. “And most of the time we’re really
tired, but we know that it’s going to take us to a new place.
I kid you not, he and I have gone 24 hours without sleep,
but we don’t grow tired of it.”
will say to us, ‘I love your pesto, but you must get tired
of hearing that; I’ll shut up,’ she adds. “I always say, ‘No!
I’ve been up since 3 o’clock in the morning. I need you to
be giving me these accolades because without it I’m just thinking
to myself, ‘What the heck am I doing? Why am I doing this?’
The couple claim that besides providing for the family, their
main ambition is giving back to the community. Trieste, who
follows the natural elements of Buddhist religion, says it
would be improper for them to use his self-designed image
of Buddha on the product’s label unless he were able to give
back in “full circle.” Originally from Woodstock, Trieste
and his family have a close relationship with the local Buddhist
community and their leader Lama Pema, and he plans to donate
a portion of Buddhapesto’s profits to two of Lama Pema’s learning
and spiritual schools in Nepal and India.
Gandara is hopeful for what the future will bring, but still
judges her success simply by looking at her family. “We are
a circus act,” she says. “I used to do it when the babies
were really little; I would have one on my back while I was
cutting the bread, and serve the pesto while holding one of
guess my goal is to meet Oprah and hear, ‘Hello, and today
we have Maria with Buddhapesto. There’s a pound of pasta and
a Buddhapesto under your seats for each of you,’ and everybody
claps,” she says laughing. “I mean if Oprah gives me the thumbs
up . . .” She trails off as she gestures sky-high.
Coming back down to reality, she looks across the room at
her family, knowing that there are countless 8-ounce containers
yet to be filled with pesto. She smiles. “Even if I work to
the bone like this for the next 10 years, at least I know
that it’s going to the next point,” she says. “We’ve come
a long way, and we’re not finished coming along.”
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
the summer’s sticky heat inspires dreams of air
conditioning or the beach, a toothsome, seasonally
appropriate alternative will be offered next Thursday
(Aug. 9), at New World Home Cooking Co.
in Saugerties: a backyard hoedown! Chef Ric Orlando
and his crew will cook up a Tennessee barbecue
with smoked pork, grilled trout, white bean chili,
corn on the cob, fried green tomatoes, salads,
sweets and more. Beer, wine, root beer, lemonade,
and mint juleps also are included, for $35 per
person (plus tax and tip). Dinner runs from 6
to 9, and includes a set of live music. The restaurant
is at 1411 Route 212, and you can reserve seats
or get more info at (845) 246-0900. Remember to
pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food
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very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's
at Ogdens. You review described my dining
experience perfectly. This wasn't the case
with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or
Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree
that a restaurant can have an off night
so I'll give the second unit on Central
Avenue a try.
yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back.
Second, I haven't had a chance to visit
Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading
would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant
- it's not that far away. People traveled
from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam.
From his background, I'm sure the chef's
sauce is excellent and that is the most
important aspect of an Italian restaurant.
Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on
the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm
looking forward to trying this restaurant
- I look forward to Metroland every Thursday
especially for the restaurant review. And
by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam
location and is opening a new bistro on
Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running
in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake
Bistro. It should be great!
comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants
being as "standardized as McDonald's"
shows either that you have eaten at only
a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or
that you have some prejudices to work out.
That the physical appearances are not what
you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing
on the food. And after all, that is what
the main focus of the reviews should be.
Not the physical appearances, which is what
most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on
Central Avenue, may not look the greatest,
but the food is excellent there. And the
menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian,
chicken, and more..