It was last summer when a visitor to our Peanut Butter & Co. Sandwich Shop in Manhattan took a look at our menu and said, "You sure do have a lot of peanut butter sandwiches. I bet you couldn't do a different one for every day of the year, though. That would be crazy!"
Pretty crazy, yes, but if anyone could find 365 different takes on America's favorite sandwich, it was us.
That night I made a list of 20 sandwiches using ingredients as varied as caramel popcorn and Scrapple. By the end of the week, I had 40 more. Seasonal sandwiches and holiday themes were obvious, but at about 180 sandwiches I started feeling burned out. Interns were called in. New perspectives led to new ideas; the brainstorming continued. Puns and wordplay abounded. By the end of July, I had 365 sandwiches—an entire year's worth of wacky PB&Js.
What next? My good friend and photographer Theresa Raffetto (who also did all of the photography for the The Peanut Butter & Co. Cookbook) and she brought in food stylist Patty White. Keith Cohen from Orwasher's Bakery agreed to supply all of the bread, and we set out to accomplish a seemingly impossible task: photographing 365 PB sandwiches in just a few weeks.
There was blood. There was sweat. There were even a few tears. There were definitely challenges, too. Have you ever tried finding fresh passionfruit in the middle of the summer in New York City? What about buying Halloween decorations in August? There were many laughs too, and plenty of peanut butter was consumed by all.
We called our project The Nutropolitan Museum of Art. It seemed only right to open it in March, aka National Peanut Month. The Openhouse Gallery seemed like the perfect space and the National Peanut Board jumped on board to support the show.
If you're in Manhattan this weekend, please stop by the gallery! Everyone who visits scores a free jar of peanut butter (naturally). And to make it even more of a feel-good event, the Food Bank for New York City will be donating a second jar to the food bank for every jar we give away.
About the author: Lee Zalben was a PB&J-loving kid that grew up to be the founder and president of Peanut Butter & Co., which began as a Greenwich Village sandwich shop serving nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and expanded to include the now-famous line of all natural flavored peanut butter. Lee is a graduate of Vassar College and enjoys traveling the world in search of interesting foods made with peanuts, tree nuts, and seeds. When he's not working, eating, flying or writing, he enjoys scuba diving and training elephants.