I came across the zen of slow cooking’s Sichuan Slow Cooker Spice Blend at the Fancy Food Show in New York this month, where the blend took home the Specialty Food Association’s sofi™ Award for Best New Product in the Seasoning, Spice category. This packaged blend, designed to pair with beef, chicken, or tofu, and a variety of other fresh ingredients, seemed like the perfect product to anchor a retail destination, allowing consumers to plan convenient, delicious meals on the fly in the grocery store.
I was impressed by the product and the zen of slow cooking’s very knowledgeable and approachable Founder and Co-Creator Meg Barnhart, so I reached out to find out more about the company’s origins, its products, and its uniquely altruistic mission.
“Our blends are designed to specifically to bring ease to the home cook,” Meg told me. “If you look on the back of our packaging we have a recipe, a shopping list, and pairing suggestions for beverages, salads, sides…people literally buy them and then shop the market for fresh proteins and ingredients. They’re a great vehicle for cross-promotional opportunities.”
The company traces its roots to the early-2000s when, as a mother of three school-age children, Meg found herself struggling to put healthy, fresh, and delicious food on the table. As mom-guilt and stresses associated with sending a son with learning challenges to school mounted, Meg called a friend who gave her some sage advice.
“I called my best friend, pretty disheartened, and she told me three things,” Meg said. “She said, 'you’re not a failure.' She said, 'stop answering your phone—you’re way too accessible.' And the third thing she said was, 'go buy a crock pot.' And I went out the next day and enthusiastically bought a slow cooker and fell in love with it. I loved that we could have a from scratch dinner every evening in a time frame that worked for me.”
Meg cooked steadily, three to four times a week, with the slow cooker, until finally her daughter burst into tears at the idea of any more pot roast. Rather than abandon the practice, the adroit home chef used this opportunity to hone her skills and further develop the roots of what would become the zen of slow cooking.
“There was an idea here that was good, but I knew I had to change it up,” Meg explained. “By then I understood the science behind it, what was going on in the process, and I started playing with recipes, and the food got really good.”
Fast forward to 2010 when her children began becoming more self-sufficient, and Meg found herself looking apply her skills, do the things that gave her joy, and contribute to causes she was passionate about. Finding that the cooking with which she had struggled so much had become meditative, Meg decided to launch the endeavor that would become the zen of slow cooking.
And felicitously, around this time, Meg met Jane McKay—who would become her partner in the enterprise.
“Jane is a fabulous cook with a background in food science. She had just moved over from England. She was a young mom with little children, and she said that it sounded interesting,” Meg said. “So we launched the zen of slow cooking food blog in 2012 and, using our most widely-searched recipes, created our first line of spice blends.”
From this first recipe, a Coq au Vin based on Julia Child’s classic recipe, the company began to grow rapidly. Jane would hand-blend spices, and Meg personally distributed them at farmer’s markets until burgeoning demand online prompted the two to partner with Planet Access Company—a company that provides training and employment for adults with disabilities
From 2014 onward, the company grew rapidly, reaching the finals of Chicago’s Next Best Food product competition, co-branding two meal kits with online retailer Peapod, being selected to be sold in Whole Foods stores, and winning the 2017 sofi Award. And the company is slated to release a new vegetarian slow cooking meal kit with Peapod this August.
Currently, the company offers ten Slow Cooker Spice blends—developed with input from customers and informed by Meg and Jane’s personal experiences. Flavors include: Coq au Vin, Daube Provençale, Indian Dal, Mediterranean, Moroccan Tagine, Mulling Spices Double Pouch, Sichuan Blend, Smoky BBQ, Southwest Fiesta, and Sweet and Spicy.
More information on the zen of slow cooking and information on wholesale ordering visit their website. And for more on all things dairy, deli, and bakery, check in with us at Deli Market News.