CHarissa, the Moroccan-style condiment invented by 91-year-old Greenport resident Earl Fultz, was a big winner at Monday night's Specialty Food Association awards ceremony.
The sauce, made by cHarissa LLC of Cutchogue, won first place in "Cooking, Dipping or Finishing Sauce," one of 32 categories judged by a national panel of specialty-food retailers. The so-called sofi awards were the high point of the three-day Summer Fancy Food Show that wrapped up Tuesday at the Javits Center in Manhattan.
"It's great, I know it," Fultz said. "But I have to sit down and absorb it."
Fultz started making cHarissa and selling it at the Greenport farmers market in the summer of 2013. The cumin-olive-oil-paprika mixture was inspired by his wife Gloria's Moroccan family recipes. When Gloria died in the fall, Fultz pushed ahead, teaming up with Jeri Woodhouse to form cHarissa LLC. Woodhouse is owner of A Taste of the North Fork specialty market in Southold and North Fork Specialty Kitchen in Cutchogue, which produces custom sauces, dressings and jams.
As cHarissa was gaining distribution on the North Fork, Fultz entered a small-business competition sponsored by Wells Fargo, and in 2014 he was selected as one of five winners (out of 3,600 applicants nationwide) who received a $25,000 grant and six months of mentoring by a team from the bank.
The 2015 Fancy Food Show was the first one Fultz and Woodhouse attended. Even before the awards were announced at the annual showcase for hundreds of thousands of specialty foods, their booth was mobbed. "They were coming at us from all sides," Fultz said.
His goal now is to translate his award into sales. "From the beginning I've said cHarissa sells itself better than I can," Fultz said. "The challenge now is how to get people to taste it."