Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Larry's Southwestern Sauces in the Daily Gazette
Bringing the Southwest to the Northeast
Larry Sombke prepares huevos rancheros with his all-natural Ranchero sauce at his home in Delmar. Huevos rancheros is an easy dish to whip up. All you need is eggs, a good chili sauce (like Larry’s Sombke Southwestern Ranchero Sauce), some grated cheese, tortillas and a lime garnish, if you are feeling fancy.
Larry Sombke warmed a kettle full of fresh crushed tomatoes, garlic, onion, jalapeño peppers and cilantro inside the kitchen of his Delmar home.
“Mmmm,” Sombke said of his spicy sauce. “It even smells good.”
Sombke wants people to enjoy both aromas and tastes of his ranchero, chipotle and mole (pronounced “MOE-lay”) sauces — the stars of his Larry’s Southwestern Sauce line. The Mexican-influenced sauces can be used for nachos, tacos, scrambled eggs, soups, chicken wings and also jazz up meats and seafoods.
Sombke believes the sauces are unique because of their ingredients. Americans are exploring Southwestern foods more than they used to, Sombke believes, and that means more chipotle peppers — they’re smoke-dried jalapeños — more dishes with beans and corn tortillas and more cilantro.
“If you don’t have cilantro in a Mexican-style sauce, you don’t have a Mexican-style sauce,” Sombke said, as he sampled his warm “ranchero” on a cold, late winter day.
The author and food producer has been making his Mexican sauces since the late 1970s and his days as a chef at the Pacquin Street Cafe, a natural foods restaurant in Columbia, Mo. During travels to California and Mexico, Sombke learned about chipotle peppers and other ingredients popular in Southwest-style cooking.
Other careers followed. Sombke worked in radio and wrote food articles for publications such as The New York Times, Esquire, Food & Wine, USA Today and the New York tabloid newspapers. He owned and operated The Private Chef, a personalized catering business in New York City and the Hamptons.
Sombke also was the associate producer on “What’s Cooking With Burt Wolf” and “Burt Wolf’s Travels” on PBS and CNN. He has written 14 books about cooking, gardening and sustainable green living. For 10 years, he was heard as the “Natural Gardener” on Northeast Public Radio.
Sombke always kept his sauce pots going. Friends liked the mixtures so much that he decided to manufacture his products on a greater scale and market them. Nelson Farms in Cazenovia (near Syracuse) was the first step. Nelson is part of the Pride of New York program, designed to encourage local small-scale agriculture and food production, and became Larry’s Southwestern’s first co-packer.
He began selling his jars during the summer of 2009, visiting farmers’ markets in Delmar, Voorheesville, Ballston Spa and the Empire State Plaza in Albany. “We had no idea how the public would respond, but they liked the flavors,” Sombke said. “They liked the fact that this was an all-natural vegetarian product with no preservatives.”
The sauces are now also manufactured closer to home, at Casa Visco Fine Foods in Rotterdam. And in January, Sombke’s triple play received shelf space in 10 Price Chopper supermarkets in the Capital Region, including Glenville, Saratoga Springs, Wilton, Clifton Park and Colonie.
Twenty-six Whole Foods markets in New England are also on the Larry’s bandwagon, and the Southwesterners are also available at the Honest Weight Food Co-Op in Albany and the Niskayuna Co-op supermarket. Each jar costs between $5.99 and $6.99. Nearly 75 stores in all carry Larry's Southwestern Sauces, from Portland, ME, to Saratoga Springs to Bedford Hills.
Sombke said his ranchero offers the natural flavors of jalapeño and cilantro. Chipotle, featuring the smoked jalapeño peppers, adds a layer of smoky flavor. “Mole has the mysterious, rich flavor of chocolate,” Sombke said. “When people try mole, they don’t know what the flavor is. It doesn’t taste like a chocolate bar.” The sauces can also be used for nachos, as marinades, in meat loaf or on hamburgers.
“They taste great, they’re exciting flavors with the chilies and the herbs,” Sombke said. “They’re also very healthy and natural flavors. People have been eating Mexican-type flavors for years in fast food restaurants, but now they’re discovering that there are better flavors, better options, more authentic flavors and I think they’re really attracted to them.”