Pastry chef Tommy Juliano has worked in some of the country's top kitchens: Eleven Madison Park and wd-50 in New York City, Alinea in Chicago and ON20 in Hartford. Each restaurant required chefs to be clean-shaven, dressed in pressed whites.
Then he moved west to join Washington's Community Table in March of 2013, where he and his fellow chefs often personally forage for their menu's ingredients in surrounding rural Litchfield County towns.
And Juliano grew a beard. A substantial beard, that needed to be tamed.
Juliano and his wife, Briana, had begun to live a more natural lifestyle on their Cornwall farm, with the health and well-being of their two young daughters in mind. Briana, dealing with thyroid issues and Lyme disease, experimented with aromatherapy. The couple began to forage for native plants like pine, spruce, juniper and yarrow, steam-distilling the essential oils from the greens and adding them to other natural oils like almond, argan and sea buckthorn.
The result produced a natural cosmetic product that conditioned and styled long, unruly facial hair, with a scent like a New England forest. Juliano shared the oil with his bearded colleagues and "before you know it, people started asking for it," he said. "It just exploded."
The Julianos formed an LLC and began producing and selling Cornwall Beard Oil in November 2013, pitching the product to men throughout the region. Juliano said it was designed for "guys who had big beards that looked terrible," giving them an option to maintain the growth and keep the hair looking nice.
"The great thing has been the barbers who've embraced our products," Juliano said.
Area barber shops, salons, markets and other retailers have begun to carry the oil, which is priced at $16 for a one-ounce bottle. The oil is also sold online, along with Cornwall mustache wax, for which the Julianos are trying to source local Connecticut beeswax. Other products in the works include natural soap and an aftershave.
"We are trying to expand — we've had some big retailers who've shown interest," Juliano said. "Our company is in its infancy stage so we're trying to get things in order."
Chefs, machinists and hairstyling professionals alike have embraced the oil, submitting testimonials to Cornwall's website describing the product's effectiveness and pleasing aroma. Ryan Clark, director of mobile affairs for Middletown's NoRA Cupcake Company, is an enthusiastic customer of the product for his own beard, which he estimates to be about 10 inches in length.
"It's amazing what Tommy has done with things he has foraged just right outside of his back door," Clark said, who says he's had a beard of "notable length" for more than two years, but never used a product for it until a friend picked up a bottle for him.
"I was floored," Clark said. "My beard is always wiry and dry but the [oil]…gave it an amazing sheen and brought life to it."
Demand has been such that the couple is in the process of moving to a larger production space with larger distillers, Juliano said, and they've had to purchase bigger quantities of pure therapeutic-grade essential plant oils to fulfill orders.
Juliano's experience in pastry has helped him shift seamlessly to the cosmetics production, he said. "[With pastry] you have to essentially create something from nothing. We can't just take a piece of protein and cook it properly. We have to create a cake, create an ice cream. I love creating things, so this is such a beautiful transition."
A New Haven native, he says he was first inspired by a true connection to farm-to-table cooking at Arrows in Ogunquit, Maine. As a pastry chef there, he said he was fascinated by the restaurant's on-site garden and the chefs who maintained it. "That's the mentality I appreciated most," he said. "I want to just work, farm and cook."
The bearded chef says his city friends practically don't recognize him now. "My friends in New York will say, 'Hey, what happened to you? You have a beard. And you're wearing these big foraging boots. What's going on with you?' And hey, we're on the farm now. We have so much more connection to what we're actually [doing.]"
Learn more about Cornwall Beard Oil at cornwallbeardoil.com