Meet Ariane Daguin, the Woman Behind Some of the City's Finest Meats

Categories: Chef Interviews

In the mid-1980s, Ariane Daguin, then working at a charcuterie purveyor, went to upstate New York to sign a contract with a farm that would allow the market to begin carrying American-raised foie gras. The trip fell apart, and her bosses opted out of making the deal. And at that moment, the Gascony native decided it was time to step out from behind the people who'd trained her for five years and launch her own business.

Daguin says everyone in Gascony was in the restaurant business, and her family was no exception -- her father was a seventh-generation hotel-restaurant owner. It was a foregone conclusion early on, however, that her brother would eventually take over that business, so Daguin decided to leave. "I wanted to show what I could do on my own, what I was worth," she says.

She headed to New York City and enrolled in journalism school at Columbia, but she soon ran out of money and dropped out, which is when she began working behind a charcuterie counter on 13th Street. There, she mused about launching a wholesale business to supply purveyors like Balducci's. Her boss agreed to let her try, and she spent the next five years building that arm of the company.

After the foie gras deal fell through, Daguin spied an opportunity, and, with partner George Faison, scraped together some financing to start a new company. At the end of 1984, the duo debuted D'Artagnan, which began peddling to chefs around the city the very duck livers Daguin's old company had turned down. The timing was fortuitous: The mid-1980s saw the beginning of New York's culinary renaissance, and a number of experimental chefs had moved into kitchens, hungry for better ingredients. "We were extremely lucky," Daguin says. "It was at the same time that those young chefs started to come out of CIA [Culinary Institute of America], and the French Culinary Institute had just started. We didn't know if the market was ready or not, but we did it. And it's turned out it was exactly the right time."

D'Artagnan soon expanded, offering specialty poultry and game birds because, Daguin recalls, chefs couldn't get any of that in the city, save for a couple of shops that were selling frozen birds. They hired their first delivery driver six months after launch, and many more employees followed. Today, Daguin oversees a company that posts annual revenues of $83 million and delivers to cities all over the country. D'Artagnan is also recognized as a leader in the high-end wholesale industry, particularly when it comes to foie gras, game meat, organic poultry, pâtés, and sausages.

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