January 18, 2012

Natural Foodie: Cajun spice blends mixed in Maine? Sounds crazy, but …

By Avery Yale Kamila akamila@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

Rich Curole realizes it's a little odd that he's creating Cajun spice blends in Portland. So he embraces the humor: The packaging for his Crazy Dick's line reads "Homemade Cajun seasonings mixed in Maine go figure!"

click image to enlarge

Rich Curole is making and selling an organic spice blend that reflects his Cajun heritage. In front of him is a Cajun gift set, which includes the two Crazy Dick’s spice blends, organic extra virgin olive oil, organic flour, a wooden paddle and a cast iron dutch oven. It’s available online, and sells for $163.95.

Staff photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Crazy Dick's spice blends are available at several Maine stores and online.

WHERE TO FIND CRAZY DICK'S

crazydickscajunfoods.com

Morning Glory Natural Foods, Brunswick

Bow Street Market and Royal River Natural Foods, Freeport

Harbor Fish Market and Maine's Pantry, Portland

Rock Lobster, Portland and Ogunquit

Lois' Natural Marketplace, Scarborough

Turns out, this unusual juxtaposition is well-suited to the Cajun style.

As Curole explained, Cajun culture and cuisine is "spicy, it's flavorful, it's memorable, it's different and sometimes it's a little bit weird. But most of all, it's fun."

Another thing that sets Crazy Dick's apart from the competition is that it's made with all-organic spices.

"A large part of what we're trying to do is create Cajun food in a way that's healthy," Curole said.

He acknowledges that people don't often use "Cajun" and "healthful" in the same sentence – and with good reason. A traditional family-sized pot of shrimp creole can contain up to a dozen sticks of butter, according to Curole.

At their home, Curole and his wife, Lori, prefer extra virgin olive oil instead of butter, and brown basmati rice rather than the more typical white rice.

Curole may live in Maine now, but his Cajun roots run deep. He came into this world in Houma, La., meaning he was literally born on the bayou. When he was in junior high, his family moved to New Orleans, and he later graduated from Louisiana State University.

"The culture in Houma was more traditionally Cajun," Curole said. "And New Orleans is this incredible mix of cultures."

He moved to Maine to take a job, which he left two years ago to start Crazy Dick's.

"I couldn't go out and get the things I grew up with like gumbo, jambalaya, dirty rice and red beans and rice," Curole said.

"When I realized I wasn't going to find Cajun food (in Maine), I called my mother and asked for recipes," he said. "I don't cook those dishes the way they'd be cooked in New Orleans, because we're vegetarian in the house."

With the modified family recipes in hand, Curole found it difficult to track down the proper Cajun spice blends the dishes required. And the ones he could find were often loaded with salt and filled with preservatives, MSG or anti-caking agents.

"I started playing with different formulas and came up with one I'm happy with," Curole said. "Then Lori said, 'This would be great to make for Christmas.' "

They made a batch for family and friends, and were later surprised to find they were getting requests for refills – and people were willing to pay for them.

"That's when the light bulb went off," Curole said.

Crazy Dick's first showed up in stores in August, with each 2-ounce jar selling for $6.95. The line includes two blends: Hot Cajun Seasoning and Smoky Cajun Seasoning.

The latter contains a sizeable amount of chipotle pepper, and neither contains salt or artificial ingredients. The spice blends can also be purchased online at crazydickscajunfoods.com.

The company is still small enough that the couple creates the spice blends in their home kitchen, where, over the course of a weekend, they can produce 600 jars.

"The product appears to be really good on fish and meat and vegetables," Curole said. "The first time we heard people were putting it on their pizza was shocking."

But now they're used to hearing about unexpected ways customers use the spice blends.

Curole also recommends using the blends in baked beans, chilis, burritos, stews and eggs, and sprinkled on veggie burgers, corn on the cob and sweet potato fries.

"We don't want to be the product people put on the shelf because they make a gumbo once a year," Curole said.

Right now, about 70 percent of sales come from Maine retailers, with the other 30 percent purchased online.

"Our most flattering moment was when we sold 40 or so bottles back to New Orleans," Curole said.

"It's a nice compliment when someone from Louisiana makes a purchase."

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

akamila@pressherald.com

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

 

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