One of the great pleasures of writing this column is coming across women like chef Rocio Fleckenstein at the Leucadia Farmers Market, where she sells her amazing pickled and fermented products. And, yes, being somewhat of a pickle freak, I can’t simply walk by someone selling them, especially with a name like Lady Pirate.
Anyway, when I began my research dive into the talent behind Lady Pirate, I learned of the impressive culinary road that chef Rocio cut her culinary chops on leading to this current venture. More details on her journey in our interview below. And please, make it a point to either stop by the Leucadia or Rancho Santa Fe farmers markets or order her products online.
LTP: Tell me a bit about your background, where you grew up, culinary influences, was there gardening, pickling and canning going on?
Rocio: I grew up in Southern California and in Spain. My experiences in Spain led me to appreciate food and community. The Spanish or Mediterranean cuisine I was around had a lot of pickled or preserved foods. I have fond memories as a kid eating pickled anchovies on chips and dousing it with vinegar in a plaza in Spain. My grandmother would pickle fresh anchovies in vinegar and parsley, and I learned from my mom how to do it. That was a big influence in my connection with food long before I realized I wanted to be a chef.
LTP: Take me down your professional road to Lady Pirate.
Rocio: I started cooking as a job at 15 years old. I was a cafe cook and an aspiring cheese monger at a cheese and wine shop that was connected to a culinary school. I would trade washing dishes at night during culinary classes to sit in and learn. I went to Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, right out of high school. From there I hopped around kitchens to gain experience and landed in Spain and ironically worked at an Italian restaurant as a sous chef.
From there I came back to California and started working at True Food Kitchen in Newport Beach when they were fresh on the scene. I worked under Nathan Coulon when he was the chef there. He had a big influence on my growth as I began my journey through the trenches. You never forget your first mentor. He is still a friend today.
I moved to San Diego after that and worked at Brooklyn Girl to get my feet wet with the San Diego scene. I was the executive catering chef for Alchemy with Ricardo Heredia before Alchemy closed its doors. I was introduced to fermentation when I was executive chef at The Joint in Ocean Beach. But it’s when I worked for Ballast Point in Little Italy as the sous chef when I really got into it. We started making our own vinegars from wine and beer, fermenting vegetables, and pickling everything.
From that experience I was selected for Chefs Celebration, which is a sponsored trip that selects a group of rising chefs in San Diego, sends them to Napa for classes at CIA’s sister school Greystone. That’s the moment where I was able to dive deeper into the rustic cooking methods like fermentation, smoking and pickling. After that I became the chef at Ballast Point in Miramar and then opened Kairoa Brewing Co. as the executive chef.
I had perfected my kimchi recipe over the years and my wife, Leah, pushed me to start selling it. I started at the North Park Farmers Market. I went back to Spain in February 2020 for my grandmother’s funeral. Between COVID, the state of everything and my grandmother passing, it got me thinking about what mattered most to me. I had climbed the culinary ladder and was ready for a new challenge, so I decided to do Lady Pirate full time. It brings me joy, helps people and it’s delicious.
LTP: Lady Pirate is a great name — tell me more about it.
Rocio: It’s a reference to breaking the mold and becoming an entrepreneur and charting my own waters. Pirates were actually outcasts because they didn’t fit into the mold, so the powers-that-be banished them from being a part of society, so they lived on the sea. There were many pirates that were women and LGBTQ+ that became pirates to feel accepted and live as normal and free life as they could. Many started off as buccaneers which is derived from the French word Boucan, which was someone who smoked or preserved foods.
I grew up on boats and on the water for a long time. My grandfather is related to Captain James Cook. Cook was commissioned to help find new ways to prevent scurvy aboard ships. Ships couldn’t keep fresh produce or citrus aboard so they tried sauerkraut since it would keep forever, and it was packed with vitamin C and B vitamins. Three years and almost 8,000 pounds of sauerkraut later, zero deaths had occurred during his travels.
LTP: Tell me about your product line and the attributes of each of them.
Rocio: Some of the products have Spanish words in the names, which is a nod to my heritage.
We currently have five products available to the public and a few that are still in R&D stages that we’d like to offer this year.
Kimchi Rojo is a traditional Korean inspired kimchi, bold, crunchy and saucy. Kraut Morado is purple sauerkraut made with red cabbage, caraway and a little juniper berry. It’s mild, tangy, versatile and vegan. Our Deli Dills are a New York deli-style dill pickle with that crunchy salty-sour balance that everyone is looking for. Mato Verde are novelty pickled green tomatoes and our La Reina Kimchi Sauce is a probiotic packed sauce to add on almost anything. This sauce is derived from our kimchi batches. We bottle up all the kimchi sauce that’s left over and full of flavor and probiotics.
LTP: Where can folks find you and order?
Rocio: We are at Leucadia and Rancho Santa Fe farmers markets on Sundays from 10 to 2 p.m. You can also order off our website, www.ladypirateproducts.com. Discount code: LP2021. We deliver all over San Diego every week and ship nationwide. Follow us on Instagram @ladypirateproducts.