Anne Saxelby devoted her career to celebrating and championing American-made cheese—and her impact was exponentially larger than the retail shop she operated in New York City’s Chelsea Market. Through her shop Saxelby Cheesemongers, which first opened in a tiny space inside Essex Market in 2006 and went on to expand to a warehouse space in Brooklyn, she spotlighted domestically produced varieties from small makers and passionately advocated for the sustainable and regenerative practices behind the farmers’ cheeses. The food world collectively mourned Saxelby’s loss when she passed away last year at 40.
Today, her passion for the hard work and creativity of America’s growers lives on through the Anne Saxelby Legacy Fund. The non-profit organization, founded by Saxelby’s husband Patrick Martins, offers apprenticeships for young adults to live and work on sustainable farms for one month, fully paid, and learn about how climate change, biodiversity, and land conservation are impacting the country’s family-run farmsteads. Apprentices will see first hand how growers and producers are prioritizing environmental conservation, promoting food sovereignty, and creating more equitable food systems. (The 2022 cohort is the organization’s inaugural class. By 2024, the Legacy Fund aims to provide at least 400 apprenticeships a year.)
On Sept. 14, dozens of top New York City chefs and artisans who worked with Saxelby are coming together to raise funds for the organization and remember her. From 6 to 10 p.m., part of Chelsea Market will shut down as celebrated establishments like Gramercy Tavern, Momofuku, Gage & Tollner, and Carbone bring their signature dishes to be communally shared at the remembrance. (Tickets to the Annual Benefit are available here.)
In the lead-up to the event, we asked some of the participating restaurateurs and chefs to share a favorite memory of Anne and what they’ll be cooking for guests.
Melinda Shopsin, Shopsin’s
“She was the warmest and most fun person you could ever meet, someone who you were excited to see every time she came in,” says Melinda Shopsin, who owns the diner Shopsin’s at Essex Market. “She had the most delicious cheese, and she truly cared about each of them. She spent so much time with each and every customer. Anne was an evangelist for American farmstead cheese and there was no way you could walk out of that store without having joined her cheese church.”
In an unexpected turn of events, the two later wound up running their shops out of neighboring spaces at Essex Market. “Working alongside her was the best,” says Shopsin of her good friend. “She just was so freaking kind. I am sure she did a lot for American farmstead cheese, but more importantly, I think she made people nicer.”
The Dish: macaroni-and-cheese pancakes “because Annie used to love it.”
“She was such a galvanizing force and so generous,” says Trigg Brown, chef and co-owner of the Taiwanese American establishments Win Son and Win Son Bakery in Brooklyn. He first met Saxelby when he was searching for a cheese that could melt like American but also hold its shape enough to carry the sauce of the bakery’s now-signature breakfast sandwiches. “She picked the slightly funky, perfectly melty Redding Raclette,” recalls Brown. “Texture is often equally as important as flavor, and Anne hit a bull’s-eye for us with this.”
The Dish: pan-griddled pork buns featuring heritage pork shoulder and belly from Heritage Foods (Martins’ shop, which specializes in preserving endangered livestock species.)
Joanne Kwong, Pearl River Mart
When Asian American retail shop Pearl River Mart opened its Chelsea Market outpost in 2017, president Joanne Kwong quickly befriended Saxelby, a fellow shop owner in the space (where Saxelby opened a location in 2017). The pair, along with a handful of other women owners, formed a cocktail club that they called the Boss Ladies, meeting up for happy hour every couple of months. “We were both fast talkers, always racing against the clock, which I think is why we got along,” says Kwong. “Her generosity was notable and her energy electric. She was always willing to share valuable insights about business, or an enthusiastically kind pep talk of encouragement. Anne was universally loved and just the brightest light wherever she went.”
The Dish: Pearl River Mart’s food vendors are contributing five dishes which “span the gamut of some of [Anne’s] favorite Asian bites, but with a twist,” says Kwong—cherry miso lamb baos, tuna kimbap, hoisin mushroom crisps, strawberry hibiscus boba, and Hong Kong cakes.
Ryan Bartlow, Ernesto’s
In 2007, when Ryan Bartlow was a young cook who had just moved to Manhattan’s Lower East Side, he’d often “make an effort to stop and gaze at the assortment of cheeses that Anne had to offer” at her Essex Market shop, even if artisanal cheese wasn’t necessarily within his budget, he recalls. “From Old Chatham to Jasper Hill Farm, this was an introduction to the iconic, cult, and domestic cheese producers,” he explains. When Bartlow was developing the concept for the Basque restaurant Ernesto’s years later, he and his team visited Saxelby’s Brooklyn shop to sample different varieties of cheese. “[Patrick] told me that Ernesto’s was one of her favorite restaurants,” adds Bartlow. “That meant a lot to me. Anne meant a lot to me, too. She meant a lot to many.”
The Dish: tortilla de patatas stuffed with Moses Sleeper cheese from Jasper Hill Farm, finished with truffles.
TJ Steele and Lincoln Clevenson, Claro
Whenever TJ Steele, the chef behind the Oaxacan-inspired Brooklyn restaurant Claro, needed to source a French- or Spanish-style cheese, he would seek out Saxelby. “She always had the perfect domestic equivalent. It kept things really fun and interesting,” he recalls. “Anne was such a champion of domestic cheese so I loved how she always had a cheese up her sleeve.”
The Dish: barbacoa de chivo, with goat meat from Heritage Foods.
Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson, Frenchette
“Butter, eggs, and cheese are foundational in our cooking,” says Riad Nasr, co-owner of Frenchette, a French bistro in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood. So, naturally, the restaurant found a dairy expert in Saxelby. “Anne’s influence was instrumental in how we source those ingredients. The [legacy fund] in her honor is a direct expression of her decency and boundless enthusiasm.”
The Dish: brouillade a la coque—soft-scrambled eggs, alongside rye crackers.
Andrew Tarlow, Marlow Events
Andrew Tarlow, the restaurateur behind the catering group Marlow Events, met Saxelby more than 20 years ago when the two were coming up together in the food world. “She inspired me to think a little deeper about where our food is coming from, where the cheese is coming from, how it affects those farmers, how the cows are being taken care of,” he says.
The Dish: chef Greg Idler will prepare Spring Brook Farm Tarentaise and celery root fondue, served with She Wolf bread.
Richard Ho, Ho Foods
Richard Ho, who owns Taiwanese beef noodle soup restaurant Ho Foods in the East Village, met Saxelby after sourcing meat through Martins for years. “The two of them together just seemed like such an amazing thing. They just had so much zest for life in this all-encompassing way,” he says, adding that the couple shared a passion for championing and uplifting family farms and sustainable practices.
The Dish: Ho’s signature fan tuan, a sticky rice dish that he’ll stuff with meat floss made from Martins’ heritage pork.