Josh Tukman: Salad dressing that will change your life
June 16, 2011
BASALT – Josh Tukman says that his Alpine Avocado Vinaigrette will change your life. Tukman doesn’t say this only in interviews, when he needs to have a colorful quote that will stand out in a newspaper feature. He shouts out this promise to food shoppers at markets and festivals; on a recent weekend, Tukman was hawking the salad dressing/marinade from a booth at the Aspen Eco Fest with his vow about the product’s life-changing abilities – along with touting it as the “greatest salad dressing of all time,” and referring to himself as “a salad dressing artist.”
Part of the reason Tukman is such a true believer in his vinaigrette is that, from a business perspective, he’s got nothing else. For five years, including the last two as a full-time venture, Tukman has focused on that one product. (A Pomegranate Balsamic, which he has been working on for several years, is due out by summer’s end.) But Tukman also believes devoutly in that product – what goes into it, and what it offers. The Alpine Avocado Vinaigrette is made from extra virgin olive oil, and in all his years of looking at ingredient labels, he has found exactly one other commercial, bottled dressing that can make the same claim. (Virtually all dressings, he notes, are made from less healthful soybean or canola oil.) And Tukman, who employs one part-time assistant, has an ultra-hands-on approach to the manufacturing process, participating personally in the making of every batch and every bottle.
“So I don’t like to pass up any opportunity to introduce this to people,” Tukman, a muscular 35-year-old Basalt resident, said, adding that his dressing really is meant to change lives, at least the health aspect: The dressing is vegan, gluten-free, and contains no preservatives. “I get off on feeding people healthy food. It feels like a calling. There’s a lot of junk out there and I want to get people to eat more salad.”
Alpine Avocado Vinaigrette (alpineavocado.com) has certainly changed Tukman’s life; if nothing else, it has focused his attention. As a student at CU, Boulder, Tukman was easily distracted by concerts and rock climbing. So he dropped out to join the Marines, where he became a sniper, eventually stationed in the Persian Gulf. His military experience was intense and bewildering, but also marked by a stroke of good luck: On 9/11, Tukman was on his way back home from the Middle East, about to end his stint as a Marine. He never was fired on, nor did he fire at anyone, for which he is grateful.
After the Marines, he returned to Colorado to finish his degree. One night, while living in Denver, he was on the phone with his mother, who was in Atlanta, where Tukman spent his teens. The subject was a favorite one: mom’s vinaigrette, which Tukman and his sister requested most every night of their childhood. Mom mentioned that she had started adding mayonnaise to the recipe, for a creamier texture. Tukman was intrigued, but concerned about the health ramifications of adding mayo. An avocado was laying nearby, and he whipped up a dressing with it. Bingo.
“As graduation got closer, I couldn’t get the dressing out of my mind,” he said. “I knew if people tried it, they’d go berserk. I signed up for the Vail Farmers Market, and it took off pretty quickly.”
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With a few hundred dollars and his own VISA card – and no outside backing – he slowly cranked up production. For several years, he worked for a cheese distributor while making Alpine Avocado Vinaigrette on the side. Two years ago, he went full-time into the business, and has been pleased with the reception. The dressing – which features a label design by Scrojo, who also creates the concert posters for Belly Up Aspen – is available throughout the valley (City Market, Specialty Foods of Aspen, the Buttermilk Fruit Stand; Peach’s and the Village Smith use it on their salads), and in Vitamin Cottages on the Front Range. It was recently approved for sale at Whole Foods. Recently, on a trip to Marin County north of San Francisco, Tukman landed a distributor there; he has sent some 200 cases of the dressing to California.
Tukman says that, despite his Marine background and the vocal, outgoing way he pitches his product, he does not have an in-born intensity. It is the vinaigrette that has brought out the persuasive salesman in him.
“I’m giving out the best salad dressing/marinade out there,” he said. “I thought the world needed to see this dressing.”