Larry Sombke Interview
Larry Sombke is a cookbook author, a food and garden writer and a radio and television producer.
He’s the author of six cookbooks including: Beautiful Easy Herbs (Rodale Press), Fearless Entertaining (E.P. Dutton), Glorious Roots: Recipes For Healthy Tasty Vegetables (Master Media) and Omelettes: Eggs At Their Best (St. Martins).
Larry’s articles have appeared in The New York Times, Esquire, Food And Wine, New York Magazine, USA Today, the New York Daily News, and the New York Post to name just a few.
He was the “Cooking From The Garden” columnist for the Albany Times Union and a regular guest chef on WNYT Channel 13 in Albany.
He’s appeared on NBC’s the Today Show, the Discovery Channel and numerous radio and t.v. programs across the U.S.
He was an associate producer on “What’s Cooking With Burt Wolf” and “Burt Wolf’s Travels” on PBS and CNN.
He owned and operated The Private Chef, a personalized catering business in New York and the Hamptons and was chef to an American family in Mallorca, Spain.
He also authored five gardening books and three books on sustainable green living.
He was the garden columnist for the New York Daily News and the Albany Times Union.
For 10 years he was the award-winning “National Gardener” on Northeast Public Radio.
And if all that isn’t enough, Larry Sombke is the creator of Larry’s South-western Sauces.
He developed his South-western cooking sauces when he was a chef at a natural foods restaurant in the Midwest. Influenced by the regional dishes of Texas, Southern California, Oaxaca, and the Yucatan in Mexico his cooking sauces are designed to help home cooks easily prepare and enjoy the flavourful dishes of the Southwest and Mexico.
Larry spoke with us about his sauces.
Q – Larry, I just saw your sauces on display in the Horticulture Building, in the Pride Of New York display, at the New York State Fair.
A – Yes. I’m aware of that.
Q – You live in Upstate New York. With all of the different projects you’ve been involved with, would you be better served if you lived in a bigger city?
A – Well, I live in Albany. Some people would consider that a bigger city. But, before that I lived for 6 years in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Before that, I lived in Springfield, Illinois. So, I have moved around and I have lived in bigger cities.
Q – And so, with the Internet it doesn’t really make a difference where you live?
A – It doesn’t really matter anymore. One thing that’s nice about a more medium sized city like Albany is the lower overhead. Living in New York City or Washington, D.C. or Boston, the cost of living is so high it makes it difficult for an entrepreneur to get ahead and I’m still able to reach out to food buyers of large growing chains whether they be in Boston, New York City or Washington. You make contact with them by e-mail, by phone. It’s just as easy to reach your customers from Albany as it would be to reach your customers from New York City.
Q – How did you get interested in the world of Cooking?
A – Well, I know that one of the first jobs I had after college was working as a chef in a natural foods restaurant in Columbia, Missouri. And that was many years ago. Well beyond 20 years ago. It was a natural foods restaurant so the food had to have real flavour to it. So, I invented this sauce. I didn’t call it Larry’s Sauce back then. I don’t even think I called it Ranchero Sauce. I just called it Mexican Sauce. It was made from the ground up with all natural fresh ingredients, vibrant spices, fresh jalapenos, cilantro. It’s a sauce that I had been making for my friends at home and family. Ever since then everybody likes it. We always have it on hand. About a year or so ago my wife said, ‘Why don’t you make a business out of that’? So I decided well, that’s not a bad idea. I Googled and Binged and checked to see what kind of competition there was out there. I looked in grocery stores and found there is no competition.
Q – So, you’ve got the field all to yourself then.
A – There’s a couple other small people that have products that are similar but, it’s not like I was making a spaghetti sauce or a salsa, or a barbeque sauce. Those are glutted. Those markets are glutted. I was able to find a Mexican cooking sauce that nobody else is making.
Q – How are you promoting your products in Central New York?
A – I have Nelson Farms which represents me in Central New York. They’ve gotten me into a store in Batavia, that’s more Western New York, and also in Cooperstown. They have my products for sale there at Nelson Farms Country Store, just down in Cazenovia. But, at the same time I’ve made contact with a larger food distributor in Central New York, in Syracuse that if they decide to be my distributor they would be a strong co. to take me into more stores in Central New York and in Western New York.
Q – So, with this distributor you’d be able to get your product into Wegmans, Price Chopper and Tops Market?
A – Yes. They do have solid connections into those larger stores as well as food co-ops and other speciality stores.
Q – Where in say Syracuse is there a market for your sauces?
A – Well, there’s at least one or two natural foods co-ops and natural food stores. There may be even more there. So, I think that’s a natural place for my product. I’m in 25 of those natural foods, food co-op and speciality gourmet stores here in the Capital region which includes Western Massachusetts, the Berkshires and the Hudson Valley and Saratoga Springs. I’ve had very good luck in getting into those stores. So, getting into those kind of stores in the greater Syracuse area, I think there’s a real good possibility that I’ll be able to get into those stores too. I think in college towns like Cortland, Ithaca, wherever there’s a college is a very good market for my products.
Q – Do you go out and do demonstrations and cookbook signings?
A – Yeah. I’ve done quite a number of in-person demonstrations, samplings. For instance my product is now in all 26 Whole Foods Market in all of New England. On the 22nd of August (2010) I did a sampling of my sauces at The Whole Foods Market in West Hartford. We sold 4 cases in 3 hours. We sold every jar they had in the store. So, when I do demonstrations they’re very successful. I’ve done it in Saratoga Springs, Great Barrington. I’ve done it in a number of places and since it’s a new product once people taste it-----they buy it!
Q – You hosted an all natural gardening program on radio. That must be tough to get your message through on radio.
A – Not in pubic radio. Public radio has a very loyal following of people who like to listen to news talk information.
Q – Since you’ve done so many things in your life, what is it you’re looking to do in say the next year?
A – I want to really build my Larry’s Southwestern Sauce business. I think there’s a potential for tremendous growth. I think people are interested in all natural food products. I think they’re interested in products that have great flavour and that are also good for them. Mexican Foods are growing in popularity. It’s probably one of the least popular foods in the Northeast as opposed to say Texas or California or Colorado, but this part of the country it’s growing. People are beginning to enjoy the flavors and they want to be able to cook it at home. I’ve told people that I think I am with the Mexican cooking sauce where Chef Boyardee was 30 years ago with spaghetti sauce. Thirty years ago, yes there were old fashion Italian families their own pasta sauce at home, but most people did not. They didn’t have it. They’d been sampling Italian food in restaurants and they started realizing they could get a good jar in the store and they could still enjoy their favourite foods without all the extra work. So, that’s what I’m offering them with Larry’s Southwestern Sauces, a chance to enjoy their favorite Mexican Southwestern Foods without all the work of having to cook the sauce themselves.
Official website: www.larryssouthwesternsauces.com
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