“My mom started making jerky when we were kids. My brother Amos and I were really into it. We would go on road trips and would always stop to get it along the side of the road. She started making beef jerky herself because it was expensive to buy but cheap to make.” Sophie Buhai explains as she points to various meats in display cases at The Albanese Meats and Poultry shop in Nolita. “My brother inherited my moms abilities in the kitchen and he started making it better than she did.” she laughs. Now the bright eyed designer uses her brother’s recipe whenever she is craving her childhood snack. Today she has brought along her partner and best friend Lisa Mayock to select the perfect cut of meat to make the tasty family favorite. They enjoy coming to their friend Moe The Butcher, who can always be found standing patiently behind the counter at his nearly 85 year old shop. The girls admit this is their preferred butcher shop because they can always rely on Moe to provide them with quality meats at reasonable prices and fascinating stories about the old neighborhood. Upon entry one is greeted with New York sports paraphernalia, antique butcher equipment, and of course Moe himself. This family run business is regarded as “The Last Remaining Old-Time Butcher Shop in Little Italy”.
The designers have been dehydrating meat together for a few years now, giving away the snack to friends and family as gifts for holidays and house warming alike, but their friendship dates back to their senior year of high school. “We met on a blind friend date” Lisa laughs. “Our mutual friend Tini set us up when we were both living in LA, because we had both decided we were going to parsons in the Fall. We went out to lunch and it was awkward since we were both very shy at the time. But we realized we had the same favorite “secret” thrift store so we went shopping together. After that it was like our friendship was solidified.” After moving to New York, the two attended the prestigious fashion school, but were not accepted into the coveted Senior Showcase.”So we decided to have our own fashion show to present our designs to our friends and family. During the summer, I worked at Fluke in Brooklyn and Lisa worked at Ellen in the Lower East Side. We would work at these vintage shops, and spend days at Lisa’s house in her living room sewing clothes. We each got like $2000 from our parents-which in reality is like nothing. So we sewed a lot ourselves. We bought discounted fabrics and became friends with the guy from MOOD. We rented a place for $500 to host the presentation and had our friends photograph and DJ. The concept was originally to have a BBQ, and then it turned into something else entirely the more we started planing. It turned into a real show!” Sophie exclaims. This show resonated with the editors who were in attendance, and it’s success established the Vena Cava brand as a household name.
Since their days of working at vintage stores and sewing garments in living rooms, the two ladies have become inseparable, often referring to themselves playfully as each other’s “wives”. As such, the girls share common interests. Besides their obvious love of fashion, they both have a penchant for good food. “I like everything and anything having to do with food. I am about to take some intensive classes at the culinary institute to learn more about the process. It’s a 25 hour course, 5 hours a day of basic techniques, knife skills… I’m one of those people that needs to understand why, so it sounded perfect for me. I also love going on food adventures to random spots and neighborhood places. I like finding little nooks in my neighborhood and Williamsburg is like “food heaven”. There is a place called Samurai Mama, by the same owners of Bozu. Both of them I love. They are very low key and never a scene. I think Snacky is underrated and I love Maison Premier.” Lisa says. “I love all the old italian stuff in Carroll gardens. Paisanos is a meat and cheese shop that has been around since the 40′s, There is Caputos bake shop-delicious, and I go to Lucali’s which is an amazing pizza shop. I love all the original italian stuff. It’s not hipster, its just good.” Sophie explains.
While the girl’s share a love of neighborhood culinary “gems”, their palates are quite different. “I have a total sweet tooth!” Sophie admits. This can be credited to her grandmother, who throughout her life collected enough recipes to make a book which was recently passed down to the young designer. “She recently passed away and gave me all the family baking recipes. Now I have to learn how to make her famous ice box cake-Grandma Tilly’s Ice Box cake. It’s my turn to carry the torch.” Lisa does not share this love of sugar, and is drawn to more ambiguous carnivorous delicacies. “Lisa always picks the thing on the menu that she is curious about, that she doesn’t know what it is but wants to try it. So she is very adventurous. She typically gets an abstract or serious meat like a shoulder blade or a t-bone.” She has not always been this adventurous, Lisa confesses. “I was super unadventurous as a kid. I hated everything with bread in it-like pizza and sandwiches. I wouldn’t eat anything normal kids ate. I stuck to beans, eggs and rice. My mom is Mexican so I ate a lot of black beans and rice. It cost like $9 to feed me throughout my childhood!” she laughs.
Although the two have distinct tastes, they both know what the other enjoys. Each was able to create an “ideal menu” for the other:
“Your meal would be like a Negroni or a good glass of red wine to start with. She always butters her bread and adds salt. That is a must. She loves meat plates and a good pasta. So I would say, she would want a big bowl of Bolognese- her favorite is from Aurora. For dessert she would want profiteroles”
“A+! That would be like the meal I would have before I die!!” Sophie rejoices.
“To start as an aperitif she would go with some tequila to sip on-she is badass like that. She would then go for an italian wine-like a Montepulciano. Then octopus in squid ink. For her main she would get an abstract or serious meat like a shoulder blade or a t-bone- with an interesting side like a truffle oil potato bake-if that is even a dish! For dessert she would get like a chocolate cake with sea salt.”
“High five-she knows me.” Lisa confirms
Over latte’s the ladies also disclose their go-to spots for a girls night out and a stiff drink:
Girl’s Night Out:
“Our favorite french restaurant, our special place…” Lisa says winking at Sophie “is called Le Relais De Venise L’Entrecote. There are two or three in paris. Its amazing and all you can eat.You can’t order specifics, except for wine and dessert. You just kind of get what you get. They have this crazy list of like 40 desserts you can choose from. The waitresses have been there forever and they wear this like 50′s black and white waitress uniforms- and they are like 60. They opened one in Times Square. They are known for their steak sauce which is green like a chimichurri. When you sit down they literally just dump a bunch of salad on your plate -it’s fantastic!”
“We actually have a pretty great supply of liquor in our studio! A couple weeks ago My friend came over to meet me to go get a cocktail and it started hailing so we were like- “great we have all this champagne in the fridge!” I keep a bottle of bourbon on my desk which Sophie got me when she went bourbon tasting in Kentucky.” “It’s amazing you haven’t drank the whole thing yet!” Sophie exclaims.
When the two entertain, they also have a go to “boozy punch”:
“It’s a go to for our parties. It’s basically all alcohol and sugar.We combine a bottle of dark rum, a bottle of gin and a bottle of champagne with mashed raspberries and mashed lemon peel and sugar. Long island ice tea is a poor mans version of this. I have my grandmothers old punch bowl with feet on it, so that is what we like to serve it in. Everyone gets sloshed-it makes a great party-it was the standard bar punch at the old Algonquin hotel.