With these gorgeous and delicious condiments
April 26, 2018
Here at 150ish, we often bemoan the state of our fridges and pantries—is there room to squeeze in just one more jar of some tasty spread or condiment that we’ve carried home from a market or specialty shop? Francesca and Marisa will always save a spot for jars from Le Bon Magot, a line of chutneys and spreads created by Naomi Mobed and based on a palate developed the world over. We’re not the only ones to sing the praises of her surprising flavors—in 2017, she was awarded no less than five SOFI awards by the Specialty Food Association and was a Good Food award finalist as well. She repeated her SOFI success just last month, taking another gold at the Winter Fancy Food Show.
Here’s the dish. Le Bon Magot roughly translates to “the hidden treasure,” and that’s an apt description of these tasty condiments. While the concept of sweet and sour chutneys, relishes, achars, and so-called “pickles” are inherent in her native South Asian culture and a presence at every meal, Naomi draws upon flavors she absorbed while living in such diverse destinations as Dubai, Johannesburg, and London.
Her travels started early. Born in Karachi, Pakistan, her father’s oil-industry career quickly moved the family to Tehran, followed by stations in Hong Kong, Copenhagen, and Bartlesville, Oklahoma, before settling in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, when Naomi was in high school.
“My parents were the type who quickly integrated the language and culture of wherever we were living into our family life,” Naomi tells us. “For example, when we moved to Hong Kong, the first thing my mother did was to enroll in a Szechuan culinary course, then she went and did Hong Kong cuisine. We always found it easy to assimilate to wherever we lived.” She explains that her mother became adept at recreating dishes from her own culture anywhere in the world, substituting local spices or flavors if an exact ingredient could not be found. Naomi quickly learned that the so-called “food boundaries” that define something as Indian, African, or Middle Eastern, can quickly be broken down.
With a degree in hand from Mount Holyoke, Naomi had to choose between a culinary education and graduate school. She followed the latter path, thinking that it would offer more options, and earned a master’s from the London School of Economics. “I figured I could always do the culinary part later,” she says, and, after a successful career in international banking took her to London, Dubai, South Africa, and Cairo, she returned to the States and realized “that ‘later’ was ‘now.’ If I don’t do this, it’s going to be something that very quickly would be talked about but never actually realized.”
Eschewing her original idea of opening up a small patisserie, Naomi decided to bring a product line to market, settling on condiments and preserves because they offered the quickest route to retail shelves. “The aim was always to bring the flavors of Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia to market in an amalgamated way across multiple product categories.”
Naomi also tells us that both her grandmother and her mother play a large role in product development—her grandmother’s inherent knife skills and understanding of how to cut and chop different ingredients for optimum flavor greatly impacted the textures, while her mother works closely with her on flavor profiles. “There are a lot of hard-core battles that are fought at home when it comes to new flavors,” she laughs.
Incorporating in 2015, Naomi calls her company “the baby on the block. While I knew that condiments offered me the quickest route to market, I also knew that it was going to be a slow burner. Unlike milk, or eggs, or cheese, these are not weekly purchases. It’s not a necessity you need in your fridge, it’s something we’re going to have to create a demand for.”
Naomi is clearly ambitious for her brand, but it is obvious at first taste how much care and thought has gone into the contents of each jar—her use of local produce (Jersey tomatoes for the Tomato and White Sultana Chutney, with ginger and garam masala; Indian long gourds grown “right up the road” for the White Pumpkin and Almond Murabba, with cardamom and vanilla) means that every batch she makes is nuanced. She works closely with her North Fork of Long Island co-packers to make constant adjustments and achieve the right balance.
In addition to the aforementioned chutney and murabba, there is Brinjal Caponata, featuring eggplant with cumin and curry leaves; Lemon-Sultana Marmalata, with caraway and saffron; and Spiced Raisin Marmalata, with ras al hanout and smoked cinnamon.
Although she calls herself “a cheesy person,” Naomi is not content to simply sell her line as cheese and charcuterie plate accompaniments. “Yes, we made it with cheese and charcuterie platters in mind, but I also saw no reason why heritage recipes could not be used in more innovative ways. When we make traditional pickles and achars at home, we use them in a variety of ways. People can cook with them and we want to show a plethora of applications for these products that are essentially ready to use right from the jar.”
Listen to Naomi describe how she elevates a sandwich and you get a great sense of the palate behind the products: “I love the spiced raisin marmalata with duck prosciutto—it’s gorgeous. Take mesclan greens lightly dressed with a good olive oil, balsamic, and fresh pepper, melting oozing Fontina cheese, and crisp ciabatta. I’m crazy for mustard, so with this, I would do just a hint of butter on the bread, then a very thin layer of mustard, and then build the sandwich with a healthy layer of the spiced raisin marmalata on top.” Is your mouth watering? Ours certainly was.
Hearing Naomi describe new products in the pipeline also convinced us there’s no end to her creativity. She mentions a Serrano pepper and tamarind pickle with coriander seeds, and then a rose and rhubarb jelly, made with the extract of Long Island sea roses. There is also a spiced carrot marmalade with figs, dates, and sour cherries. From there she sees emulsions, ice creams, and snack products in the future.
“What is challenging in this environment where people have so much choice is to build a brand and have people start to trust us with their pantry and grazing selections,” she says. We’ll follow Naomi down any aisle.
For an extensive list of retailers, or to order directly, visit lebonmagot.com.