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Business: Family recipe goes for the gold

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

It’s been less than a year since the Luquire family started marketing and selling its Carolina Creole simmer sauce, but the product is already making a name for itself in a major way.

The sauce was recently selected as a 2012 “sofi” Silver Finalist in the food service category of the National Association of Specialty Food Trade, Inc., awards. Sofi is an acronym for Specialty Outstanding Food Innovation. The award is the top honor in the $75 billion specialty food industry.

“It was kind of a shock,” said Jason Luquire, a Pawleys Island area resident and managing member of Luquire Family Foods. “Obviously, we believe in our simmer sauce, but I didn’t expect something like this so early on.”

Most of the company’s operations are in Charleston, but it also has office and warehouse space on Tiller Drive in Pawleys Island.

Carolina Creole is the first food the company introduced onto the market and it was selected from more than 1,900 entries by a panel of national specialty food experts over several days. There are 110 Silver Finalists across 30 award categories. They will compete for the gold next month and winners will be announced by noted chef José Andrés at a red-carpet ceremony June 18 at the Summer Fancy Food Show in Washington, D.C.

Made with a recipe Jason’s mom, Jo, 73, crafted in 1963, Carolina Creole is a world apart from the Creole sauces found in Louisiana. It has a Lowcountry flare that comes with a sweeter taste.

“She wanted to prepare something on the French creole side, but not as hot as what you find in Louisiana,” Jason said of his mother’s invention. “It’s hot enough to be true to the dish, but not overwhelming, and she introduced a sweet flavor. My wife calls it Carolina sweet and it balances with the spicy. I think that probably led to some of the recognition it just received.”

The sauce was created to go on shrimp and wild game the Luquire men brought home. The family had just moved to the coast from Greenwood, where the Luquires have a history in farming.

Jason grew up quail hunting with his dad, Charlie, and they were introduced to duck hunting when they moved east. He remembers spending days on the water, bringing the bounty of the land home and dropping it on the kitchen table after it was cleaned. From there, his mother would take over and, adding her special simmer sauce, she always got terrific reviews.

“They raved about that for 50 years. People have always said, ‘wow, this in unbelievable,’ ” Jason said.

With that kind of reaction, and with Jo’s blessing, the family decided to try mass producing it.

Jo made her simmer sauce by hand, blending in thick chunks of onions, bell peppers and tomatoes, along with signature spices. The goal of Carolina Creole is to give customers that same rich, homemade flavor and hearty texture without all the effort.

“We still wanted the vegetables to be firm and just like when she did it on the stove top,” Jason said.

It has garnered the approval of the “creekside critics,” as well as foodies. And letters from customers are proof that they got the from-the-stove-top taste just right. People write in to tell the Luquires they hide the old-fashioned jar the sauce comes in and pass it off as their own recipe.

One customer in Louisiana decided to try the sauce after reading about it in “Garden & Gun” magazine, in an article about “what the pros are using in their kitchens.” The Luquires don’t normally contact folks who order, but when Jason saw an order was being shipped to Louisiana, he said he couldn’t resist talking to the woman. She likes Carolina Creole so much, she now uses it regularly for her Sunday dinners.

With the quick and impressive success of Carolina Creole, the Luquires are gearing up to branch out. They already offer stone-ground grits from the family mill in Greenwood, as well as long-grain rice. Add some shrimp, chicken, pork or just about any kind of game, and both are perfect accompaniments for Carolina Creole, Jason said. For a vegetarian dish, just fill it out with more vegetables.

The company is getting ready to branch out with a gumbo, packaged much like the simmer sauce, and there’s sure to be more after that. Jason’s wife, Micki, is also a cook and has expressed interest in launching a marinara.

The company is a true family business, according to the Luquires. The whole family is involved and plans are for the awards ceremony in D.C. to be a family affair. At a minimum, Jason, Micki, Jo and Jason’s sister, Leslie Luquire Robinson, plan to attend.

Jo recently had hip surgery, but the family hopes she will be recovered enough to walk across the stage and, hopefully, accept the gold, he said.

If the gold doesn’t happen, they’ll all be happy with the silver.

“It’s a pretty big deal,” Jason said. And it’s more than they hoped for when they entered the contest. “I don’t even know what I’d do if we got the gold.”

To find Carolina Creole products, visit the company website.

Other business news: Chamber president leaves to join start-up venture

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