It starts with a friend of a friend and a road trip up North. Three years ago, chef Robert Berry, head chef at Monument Lane in the West Village, was offered a lift back to New York from DC by a kind friend of a friend who had an extra seat in his truck. This chance encounter proved to be more beneficial than merely getting a road trip buddy to chat with about cycling.
As they started talking, Berry discovered that the brother of his new friend was an experienced forager and had access to a huge ramp crop down in West Virginia where these sought-after weeds grow in abundance. As most New Yorkers would agree, this town is all about “who you know,” typically starting with a friend of a friend (or a friend of a friend’s brother). And in this case Berry hit the culinary connection jackpot.
What started as a small exchange, has now become quite the underground ramp operation. By cutting out the middle man and using this valuable “brother of a friend of a friend connection”, Berry now gets these trendy wild leeks nearly a month before anyone else in New York. How does it work? Berry’s “pork guy” (cowboy Bev Eggleston of Eco-Friendly Foods in Virginia) makes a quick stop in the fields of West Virginia on his way to New York. There, on the side of the road, Bev loads up his truck with up to 200 pounds of precious ramps and delivers them fresh to Berry himself at Monument Lane.
And what does one chef do with 200 pounds of ramps a week? Well, luckily for his friends, Berry is a nice guy with a “sharing is caring” attitude, so he shares the ramp love by hooking up 20 or so chef friends in the city (restaurants like Il Buco and chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten have all benefited from Berry’s ramp connection). And it doesn’t stop there, Berry’s “spice guy” has now started hooking up his own favorite chefs in the city by connecting them with Berry’s underground ramp business.
Don’t be surprised if you pass by Monument Lane in late-March or early-April and see men in chef whites speeding off on motorcycles with a box of ramps under their arm.