At 93 years old, Greenport resident Earl Fultz is still finding the spice of life.
His company, cHarissa, which he manages with business partner Jeri Woodhouse, has become a foodie phenomenon. The Moroccan-inspired seasoning, which initially gained popularity with chefs at local restaurants, has gone on to receive national acclaim, winning the SOFI Award at New York City’s Fancy Food Show and finding its way into dishes at Canadian eateries.
Despite launching the company just five years ago, Fultz has been enjoying the flavors that comprise cHarissa for more than four decades. The traditional combination of spices were perfected by his late wife, Gloria Elmaleh, who was born in Morocco. Fultz was inspired to embark on the venture in her honor.
We sat down recently with Fultz to learn more about cHarissa, which he emphatically describes as “good on everything.” The cumin-based spice, which comes in mild and hot varieties, doesn’t contain sugar, gluten or MSG, making it a healthier alternative to other seasonings. Best of all, it’s simple to use.
Q: What is unique about cHarissa?
A: There are a number of things. One is that it is natural and without things you usually find in condiments, like sugar. We are pure. The other thing is that it is good on everything. You can be cooking five different types
of vegetables and the flavors of the spices will work well on every one of them.
Q: You started the company in honor of your late wife, Gloria. Is this her recipe?
A: There are a variety of Moroccan spices, up to 60 or 70. This recipe is a combination of seven. cHarissa is a mixture that my wife used in her great family background of cooking. Her meals were considered food fit for a sultan. cHarissa gives you a feel for Moroccan tastes that can be applied to different foods quickly and easily. Meatloaf tastes the same almost all of the time. Add this and you have a different dish altogether. It is truly foolproof.
I should also add that Gloria wanted to introduce her American family to something healthy as well as flavorful. So, this spice recipe fit perfectly with that plan.
Q: How did everything start? What sparked your relationship with Jeri Woodhouse and A Taste of the North Fork kitchen in Cutchogue, where cHarissa is produced?
A: We had a large party for our entire family and used this spice recipe. Everyone really liked it and started asking why I didn’t sell it. Gloria encouraged me to start something new when she became terminally ill. She knew me well and knew that I needed somewhere to focus my energy and attention when she was gone. I knew Jeri and partnered with her and her commercial kitchen to establish this product line.
Q: Do you have a favorite dish to use cHarissa with?
A: I love cHarissa in soup. It started when I bought clam chowder in a can and realized that it was really potato soup. I decided to put this spice in the chowder and ended up making something of it. Now, I put it in everything. I always have cHarissa in my pocket and I try it on every dish, even chocolate ice cream. Honestly, I am trying to find something that it does not work on.
Q: When you aren’t working, what are some of your favorite things to do?
A: I am totally consumed by cHarissa. I eat, sleep and dream it. It is everything I do each day. I do this because it’s fun and it motivates me.
Q: Any special plans or goals for 2017?
A: It’s been about four years in business. We are now in a different world. We are selling on the web and work with a distributor that only distributes to chefs. We sell like crazy in Canada, where they love our product. We shared samples to food professionals from around the world at the recent specialty food show in San Francisco to start 2017, which was a success, and we took our first order for Alaska. That makes 46 states where cHarissa is sold.
In addition to being a product, cHarissa functions as an ingredient. That has given us the opportunity to have conversations with nut companies, chip companies and the like. As we speak, we are in conversation with a Spanish company about using cHarissa in their product.
Examining where to take cHarissa from here, we began to realize that sugar was the enemy and have begun a campaign to share this with kids. We are encouraging kids to cook with their parents and introducing them to flavors like cHarissa. We recently began the Earl and Gloria Elmaleh Fultz Fund, a foundation for healthy living. This foundation is used to educate kids about sugar. We expect to grow as a company and want our community to support us in this educational campaign. Currently, we’re working with Slow Food East End, Edible School Garden Program and the Wellness Foundation on this effort.
Q: Do you have any advice for fellow senior community members who are thinking about starting a business?
A: If you are an older person, be sure to have a partner who is younger than you are. However, the most important thing is that you are never too old to start a business. I was 88 when cHarissa Spice Company began. If you have a dream, go for it.
Learn more about cHarissa Spice Company products and Earl Fultz at charissaspice.com.
This story was originally published in the 2017 edition of Times Review Media Group’s 50Plus magazine.