Meet Lawrence Dass - founder of Akka's Handcrafted Foods and creator of this month's featured product, Eggplant Relish! After moving from Southern India to California, Lawrence struggled to discover true Indian flavors in his new homeland. After his sister reintroduced the flavors of his youth on a visit, Akka's was born.
What Inspired You To Start Your Company?
My older sister, an excellent cook, when visiting from India, used Meyer Lemons from our backyard to make a traditional South Indian style pickle. The authentic flavor and the distinct preservative-free taste of the homemade condiment drew many followers. Meyer Lemon pickle was the seed that my sister (Akka in Tamil, an Indian language) planted that bloomed into Akka’s Handcrafted Foods.
Tell us about your products.
At Akka’s we handcraft our food products combining the Old World cooking techniques with the New World culinary science to make fresh tasting food with authentic flavors. We roast our spices to perfection before use. We use fresh produce and spices to make our products and do not use any preservatives or artificial additives.
I grew up in a large family with many siblings. All of my Akkas took care of the siblings and the family with love and care while I was growing up. We believe that the food made with love and care, in the same way my Akkas cared for the family, assimilates into the body well and has the most benefits and loving effect.
We continued to grow by adding chutneys, simmer sauces, marinades and Super Snack – lightly seasoned mung beans or chick peas mixed with dry roasted coconut.
What Does Being A Small-Batch “Artisan” Mean To You?
A food product that is authentic, fresh tasting and flavorful like the way my mother prepared food for us while growing up is Artisan to me.
What Drew You To Food?
In the past, we used store bought packaged pickles, sauces, and spice mixes to cook at home occasionally to add variety. The dishes didn’t have any taste or flavor as the preservatives and heat from chili and salt used in the pre-packaged food were overpowering. It was disappointing!
Indian philosophy calls food to be medicine as the spices used in Indian cooking are herbs with many medicinal values. For example, turmeric, a widely popular spice due to its anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial properties is an ancient spice used in South India in small amount in every day cooking. Savants of India have used many spices like this along with appropriate cooking methods as part of Indian cooking to harvest their medicinal benefits to provide a good health and at the same time they are delicious. What a best combination – a food that nourishes as well as helps to keep the body healthy!
We wanted to keep the value of Indian spices and their medicinal benefits alive by using traditional Indian cooking methods in making our products and bring it to everyone.
Where Does Your Food Inspiration Come From?
An annual pilgrimage to our ancestral church in a distant village was a family tradition at my young age. My mother used to prepare her chicken curry sauce - a recipe she learned from my grandmother - to serve us delicious meals at the village. This and many other traditional techniques of making good food are brought alive at Akka’s Handcrafted Foods.
What Products Are You Working On Now?
Tomato chutney and Super Snacks packed with protein and fiber.
Latest Ingredient Obsession?
What Did You Have For Dinner Last Night?
Steam rice with sambar (a sauce made with lentils, turnips, tomato, onion, and spices) and kothu parata (coarsely broken Indian bread sauté with chicken and spice).
What Person, Living Or Dead, Would You Most Like To Have Try Your Product?
My parents, especially my mother.
What Other Local Food Artisans or Chefs Do You Admire?
Paul Bertolli, Founder of Fra’Mani Handcrafted Foods, Berkeley, CA.
Favorite Restaurant or Food Experience?
Recently, my brother and sister-in-law organized a birthday lunch party for me at Malaikottai Indian Chettinad Restaurant located at Newark, CA. All the dishes were very authentic and made me recall the original taste of South Indian food. It was a very enjoyable and memorable experience.
What Do You Enjoy Doing Outside of the Kitchen?
Gardening, raising chickens, traveling, learning about other cultures, Indian cultural programs and music.
Traditionally, eggplant relish is used as condiment to enhance other dishes like plain white rice and yogurt.
However, I like to make a few suggestions based on my customers’ inputs:
As a condiment on hot dog
Spread on a cheese sandwich
Topping on a pizza
Dressing on barbequed meat when pureed with small amount of olive oil
Dressing on salad
What other product in our August basket would you most want to try?