Larry's Beans - Larry Larson - Raleigh, NC - Side Dish

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owner/founder: larry larson
location: larry's beans, raleigh, nc
recipe: best iced coffee ever

side dish tv:
sustainability school at larry's beans.

Who or what is your inspiration?
It is people who follow their passion, regardless of what that is. Being around people who are following their passion is inspiring, and it's fun, and you learn a lot. It's because you're following your passion that you become an expert in anything that you're doing. I constantly find inspiration in that type of person. Some folks here at Piedmont Biofuels that did a ton of work to put together a biofuel production facility here in North Carolina. Jerry Stifelman —a colleague that we use in our marketing efforts here at Larry's Beans —he just breaths this stuff.

Where did you learn about coffee? —are you self-taught or did you have formal training?
I am self-taught. I got into the coffee business because of this affection I had for experimenting with roasting coffee. Back then there weren't that many people roasting coffee, so there wasn't any formal class to go to. Anyone who roasted coffee held their cards really close. It was very difficult to find any information. When I cook I'm highly experimental. I don't follow recipes. Roasting is very much like that. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours of… messing around. One thing I like so much about coffee is the endless possibility to experiment. Like making a sauce.

Favorite cookbook?
I haven't really cooked at all in years because I've been so busy. I'm remodeling my kitchen so I can do that now. I bet you I haven't cooked at home in, like, three or four years. So some people, like my business partner, joke that I single-handedly keep the local restaurant community alive! But the book that comes to mind that I would definitely look at again, even though it's probably been about ten years, would be the Moosewood Cookbook. The first one —with the enchanted broccoli forest.

What's the one ingredient you could not live without?
It's probably cumin. Or tumeric.

Favorite Microbrew beer or wine?
There's a brewery right here in Raleigh called Big Boss. Absolutely love their beer! They have a lot of fun experimenting with their approach, and they did a coffee stout. We helped them find the right coffee blend to work with that stout, and I'd put that coffee stout against any beer in the world. It is absolutely killer. It has this velvet, luscious chocolate flavor combined with, basically, a porter. You can't go and drink just one! Just know, if you're having one, you're having two.

Favorite music to listen to while cooking?
I really dig me some Xavier Rudd, so that's definitely music to listen to when I'm doing creative stuff. When I'm doing reflective stuff, it might be the The Be Good Tanyas. And you know, I'll throw on some John Denver to find the love and harmony in the thing I'm working on.

What is your favorite type of food?
It's evolved recently into Nuevo American. When chefs in Raleigh, or North Carolina, put their regional spin using produce that's indigenous to this part of the country, and make this blend of flavors work. It's not just Chinese, not just American —I call it Nuevo American.

Most memorable meal?
That is a tough one. So, last night… there is this appetizer dish at a relatively new restaurant in town called J. Betski's that is a smoked salmon with their own fried potato chips on it. There's some sort of slaw on the bottom, and a poached egg on the side. The combination of textures and flavors are just out of this freakin' world. I really just always want to have another one to go home with.

Most memorable adventure, or trip, abroad?
It's going to be on a coffee-buying trip, definitely. In Nicaragua, three or four years ago, we went to meet a group of growers. It was the first time gringos took effort to drive to where they live, which was quite rural. And they met us with song —a mariachi type of set up. Not the cheesy Mexico tourist kind. There must have been about 10 or 12 of them. The passion that was coming from the way they played, as well as their vocals, was just amazing. Just imagine: you're on the side of a mountain, in coffee country, with tropical birds flying around. The spirit that these people have is just magnificent. They played a couple songs before we all did introductions, and it was so inspiring that we decided to put together a recording project. We bought a field recorder, and went back, and ended up making a CD. We titled the CD Musicians, Farmers and Poets. Some of the happiest people I've ever met are coffee farmers.

Most irritating part of the coffee business?
It's that more people don't hold companies accountable for buying coffee that's traded fairly and organic. It's irritating that consumers, with their dollars, go for conventional "exploit people, exploit the planet" sort of practices when they quite easily have a choice. We are 100 percent fair trade, 100 percent organic. We're supporting growers in a way that is good for people and is good for the planet.

What makes indie food better?
I've got lots of experience with eating indie, and that's all I eat! What makes indie food better is that the care that goes on at any place that you can go and have a meal that's made by an independent operation —whether it's a chef-owner making it, or his or her staff —it's the care that goes into making it, the attention they put into the produce or meats that come in, the way they present it, and the way it tastes. Consisently, hands-down, the way it tastes is substantially better at an indie place than any sort of chain.

—Rebecca Troutman, Associate Editor,

Do you know a chef who would be great for Side Dish, contact:
Robyn Jasko, Editor,