“Bumps” and Bubbles in Sausalito – THE CALIFORNIA CAVIAR COMPANY.

                              Photo Credit California Caviar Company.

We have royalty in Sausalito, or at least, caviar royalty: the Caviar Queen herself, Deborah Keane.  A tall statuesque blond, imposing and self-assured, she acquired the title for her proficiency in the sustainable farming of sturgeon, the fish that produces caviar. With her Bump Bar in Sausalito and CQ Ranch Aquatic farm cultivating sturgeon, she’s an expert on caviar and everything related.

Photo Credit California Caviar Company.

Born in Boston to an Irish American family, Deborah knew the meaning of hard work and determination.  She had multiple jobs at school to pay for her studies, and although she began her working life as a trained nurse practitioner, one of her side hustles was modeling. First featured in front of the camera, her skillset took her behind the camera where she was in publishing for thirteen years. Following this, she moved to Paris. where she spent four years working in International Luxury Services. It was here that she had a front-row seat to everything that was”happening,” and against this background she acquired a taste for luxury goods and a high-end lifestyle, attending fashion shows, going to fine restaurants, meeting famous chefs, and developing a cross-section of connections with the best of the best in the luxury arena.

But eventually, Deborah felt it was time for a shift and she returned to the United States.

                                      Photo Credit California Caviar Company.

Not knowing what she was going to do, by chance she found herself working in the caviar industry, where she quickly learned the business thanks to her luxury background. It was here that Deborah was able to harness her connections and quickly found herself dealing with leading chefs, top hotels, and discerning caviar buyers. After working for her employer for a while, some of Deborah’s colleagues made it clear that if she started her own company, they would support her. And so she did!

Photo Credit California Caviar Company.

The California Caviar Company was launched in 2007, a less than ideal time to start a new company, especially a luxury brand. It was in 2007 that companies around the world began to show cracks thanks to the looming recession, and by 2008 the world was engulfed in the global financial crisis. But by 2008, California Caviar Company was just becoming established, and while many businesses were falling by the wayside, Deborah believed in what she was doing and knew that if she did it the right way, the company would survive and even thrive.

Photo Credit California Caviar Company.

There are no culinary schools dedicated to the study of caviar, but dipping her pedicured toes into the caviar world Deborah found she had a perfect palate for tasting caviar and was able to recognize the intricacies and discern the different types of caviar she was tasting. This is equal to the”nose” in wine-drinking and you either have it or you don’t; over and over again, she was tested by men in her industry, trying to deceive her by offering whitefish roe and telling her it was caviar, misleading her on what she was tasting. But each time, she was able to correctly identify the “eggs” that were placed in front of her.

Photo Credit California Caviar Company.

Happily, in good times and in bad, there has always been a demand for caviar, the “hallmark” of fine dining, with a mystique conjuring up luxury. This has never been more true with the dawning of the 21st Century, where the millionaire class has grown exponentially,  encompassing markets from the Bay Area to Asia’s metropolises,  craving overpriced art, and private yachts and, of course, fine dining, where caviar is a staple.

Caviar is fish roe that has been harvested from sturgeon and only sturgeon — much like Champagne comes only from the Champagne Province in France.

Photo Credit California Caviar Company.

The waters of the Caspian and the Black Sea are renowned for the quality of their sturgeon, a prehistoric fish that for two and a half million years swum in their waters and spawned in their rivers. Sold on the international market the foreign currency it earned was a valuable source of income.  But as the caviar market grew, more and more caviar was demanded, with no thought to what it was doing to the sturgeon population. These swimming “gold mines” were the gift from nature that kept on giving, funneling foreign currency into the outstretched hands of the avaricious suppliers. Steadily, the sturgeon population was being decimated because of overfishing, caused by the growing demand for caviar. 

Happily, in the early 2000s, laws were introduced to stop harvesting the eggs of the sturgeon in the countries surrounding these waters and all wild caviar fishing was limited by law, although it triggered an infamous black market.

Photo Credit California Caviar Company.

Even though the California Caviar Company was begun in what looked like the worst business climate since the Great Depression, factors from the international market contributed to a favorable climate for aquafarming sturgeon in California, namely, the shortage from the Caspian and Black Seas.   Having come late “to the table”, Deborah had a lot of catching up to do and read and studied her subject voraciously, seeking out the right people to assist her in this endeavor.  Of course, once in the caviar business, why not expand this to farming sturgeon sustainably?

Photo Credit California Caviar Company.

The fishing industry is male-dominated. It is hard work, long hours, unglamorous, and as far from walking the catwalk showing off designer gowns as anything could be.  But the idea of working with an endangered species in a sustainable way piqued Deborah’s pioneering spirit. Her motto is fitting for such an environment: “Think like a man and act like a woman.” Surrounding herself with experts, mainly brilliant women scientists and marine biologists, she founded the first sustainable caviar company with its own aquafarm. Sustainability was paramount from the groundwater systems to the food the fish are fed and 24-hour maintenance with a team of marine biologists keeping a careful watch on everything.

By adopting new methods that were sustainable, Deborah changed the look and the image of caviar.  One of her most notable achievements is being granted the US master patent for the Kohler Process, which extracts the eggs without sacrificing the sturgeon. Using this technique, after a marine biologist has biopsied to make sure the eggs are”ripe”, the sturgeon is massaged gently into releasing the eggs — thereby saving the fish in the process.

Photo Credit California Caviar Company.

In addition to Deborah’s team of scientists, she also has a Vault  Program of Chefs with whom she works. For many years she has collaborated with Jacques Pepin, the world-renowned Chef, and works with other top-tier and Michelin starred chefs like Dominique Crenn, from Bar Crenn, and Matthew Accarrino from SPQR, both in San Francisco and Peter Armallino, from The Plumed Horse in Saratoga, Florida, on furthering the prestige of caviar. And because her farming practices are so transparent, these Chefs have all been to the farm where they were encouraged to get into the tanks with the fish while Deb’s experts showed them how to biopsy the sturgeon and extract the eggs!

Photo Credit California Caviar Company.

Far removed from the sights and smells of the tanks is The Bump Bar, the epitome of everything the Caviar Queen has achieved. It is an elegant space dedicated to the tasting of Caviar and other fish roes on Bridgeway in Sausalito, California, (although meat is also featured on the menu.).   It is the height of elegance and modern style: plush blue velvet bar stools and luxuriously subtle lighting.

                                    Photo Credit California Caviar Company.

The china and serving platters are impeccable and the thin stemmed handblown crystal stemware has been carefully chosen to match with the appropriate libation. It is the perfect place to go for a special occasion or a romantic tryst.

Photo Credit California Caviar Company.

The significance of the name, The Bump Bar, comes from the way Deborah recommends sampling caviar: make a fist, and using a non-reactive spoon such as mother of pearl, place a spoonful of glistening eggs between the first knuckle and the thumb.  This is known as a “bump” and is the way caviar is sampled by the wholesale buyers when they are deciding which caviars to buy. In the Bump Bar,  this sampling is accompanied by a glass of chilled champagne.

The temperature of the hand will warm the caviar heightening the flavors and aromas.  At this point, lick the caviar off the hand, tasting it in the mouth, pushing the tongue up against the palate to feel the eggs. A prelude, perhaps, of what is to come if caviar’s aphrodisiac qualities are to be believed.

 Photo Credit California Caviar Company.

Presently the kitchen is closed, but before the pandemic, there were two chefs preparing plates in the open plan kitchen interacting with the customers. It is a very beautiful space that seats twelve guests or about 20 gathered around for a party. There is also an additional private dining room one floor down that can be reserved for private dinner parties.

.
The California Caviar Company was the first female-owned and operated caviar company in the world and Deborah Keane was the first female fish farm owner in the state of California. For a few years, hers was also the only sustainable caviar company in the country and………… in an industry weighed down with red tape and regulations.

 

This is a remarkable story of one woman defying the odds to create her own success over and over again. Through dedication, focus, and hard work, Deborah Keane has earned the meritorious title: “Caviar Queen.”

 

 
The California Caviar Company, Producers and  Distributors of Sustainable Caviar, Wholesale and Retail.

 

The California Caviar Company

1403 Bridgeway
Sausalito, CA 94965
T: (415) 332-0822
Email: [email protected]
Website: www.CaliforniaCaviar.com

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

COME ALONG WITH ME ON

the road less traveled