Everyday Meals Are an Everyday Feast for Victoria Armory
The condiment entrepreneur shares entertaining tips.
Growing up between Madrid and a farm in Seville, Spain, Victoria Armory believes that being hospitable and welcoming is a way of life. Honed by her parents, the Count and Countess de la Maza, this philosophy marries well with her passion for cooking and entertaining. When she’s not sharing recipes and ideas, Armory is running her condiment business in Greenwich, Connecticut.
Armory came to New York over 30 years ago to work for fashion designer Oscar de la Renta but ended up working for a hat designer, getting married, and moving to Florida. Her road to condiment success actually started in Palm Beach. “I started in the food business writing, and suddenly I had a column in the local newspaper,” she recalls. “Then I wrote a book (and self-published) called Delicious to benefit a school that one of my children attended.” This was followed by the popular Delicious Flavors and Palm Beach Entertaining.
The idea was simple: effortless recipes, elegant table settings, and everyday meals made into entertaining feasts. “I think I’ve assimilated Spain and I brought it here,” she said. “My mayonnaise is my ode to Mediterranean cooking and a simple, healthy way of eating with pared-down, good ingredients—great fish, a good potato, and olive oil. It’s not five hundred dishes on one plate.”
When Armory moved to Greenwich, she was asked to make something for one of her children’s school benefits. “I was not about to bake brownies,” she recalls. “I didn’t know anyone, but I decided to make savory sauces like chutney, BBQ sauce, and ketchup.” Two hundred jars sold out in 10 minutes, and when she realized that people would actually buy things from people they didn’t know, a lightbulb went off. “I made four different ‘cooking sauces,’ had them manufactured, and took them to HSN,” she says matter-of-factly. “Then I went on the air and sold them in 2012.” With 11 best-selling condiments currently available under her namesake brand, the rest is success story history.
Back at home, one of Armory’s most important entertaining tips is to know your limits as a hostess and what makes you comfortable. “If you’re hysterical, then everyone is hysterical. If you need to order everything, then do it,” she advises. “Then you’re relaxed and everyone is going to have a good time. Knowing your comfort level is number one.”
Among the rules: “Make sure you have enough ice and booze and have everything ready before your friends arrive. The candles should be lit and flowers on the table.” Armory doesn’t believe in putting guests to work. “When I entertain, I make sure everything is done before my friends come. I don’t want someone to hand me an apron and ask me to start peeling potatoes.” However, she has been known to jump in the kitchen and start slicing tomatoes on occasion. “Sometimes it was so bad, if I didn’t do it, who would?”
Her ketchup features concentrate, “aka tomato paste to keep the consistency of flavor,” but Amory prefers to use fresh heirlooms when entertaining as they have the most taste and flavors. “I’m very aware of seasonality with tomatoes, and I really try to not use them unless it’s the summer.” In the winter, she will break out a jar of tomato sauce, and she favors Rao’s or a can of San Marzano tomatoes for a pasta dish from scratch. “It gives you a more even flavor all around.”
Armory’s favorite tomato pasta to serve guests uses fresh tomatoes diced and marinated for a few minutes in olive oil, garlic, scallions, and mozzarella. “You do this while the spaghetti cooks, then you mush it all together. It’s the most delicious pasta you’ve ever had in your entire life,” she claims, adding, “You can really impress people if you peel the tomatoes.”
All of Armory’s condiments are easy to use for entertaining and spicing up your meal, but she has an affinity for the mayonnaise and its diversity. “It’s incredibly European and Spanish,” she says. “The origin comes from a Balearic Island and was invented by a French chef during the Napoleonic wars, in the territory of Spain. So, I decided it was Spanish,” she says with a laugh. “They wanted a white sauce but didn’t have butter so made the emulsification from the eggs and olive oil.”
Armory uses the condiment with a wide range of food from salads to chicken to deviled eggs, and she even uses it to cook her grilled cheese sandwiches—which have ketchup inside. “They are to die for,” she states. “Because my mayonnaise is made with olive oil, you can put it on the outside of the grilled cheese (instead of butter) and cook it. It makes it incredibly crispy.”
She uses her ketchup for everything, including adding it to the meat for meat loaf, turkey burgers, and lamb meatballs, as a topping for baked potatoes, and, of course, with French fries, but she also has an interesting use for her Champagne ketchup. “You can use it for an ‘emergency Blood Mary.’ When you’re in a total bind and you don’t have tomato juice, you can use the Champagne ketchup as a mix. It’s a clean flavor with a little lemon juice, salt, and pepper.”
For her children, she makes lots of Spanish dishes from the traditional tortilla (omelets), chicken paillard with fresh tomatoes, grilled fish, and roasted potatoes. “I use the garlic mayonnaise in the summer on the tortilla, and in the winter I serve it with tomato sauce,” Armory says.
As for growing the brand, Armory will stick with her 11 condiments in the collection for now. “I don’t want to grow too large,” she says. After all, she has only so much inventory at the factory and is pretty much a one-woman show, even after all her sweet success.