Stihl Dealer Days

Rural Missouri Magazine
Cooking up
something hot

A Taste of the Kingdom will
heat up your taste buds

by Jeff Joiner

The kitchen countertop is spread with a delectable assortment of dishes fit for any gourmet backyard cookout including potato salad, baked beans, barbeque chicken and for dessert cheese cake and brownies covered with cherries jubilee. Julie Price points out something surprising about each dish. They are all prepared with chili peppers, including the desserts. And though a sample of all the food items proves a little warm on the taste buds, the experience is delicious.

Mark and Julie Price serve up picnic food including barbeque chicken prepared with their specialty food products — condiments seasoned with chili peppers. A Taste of the Kingdom in Callaway County offers a dozen tasty, and spicy, products.

Julie and her husband, Mark, own the small specialty food company, A Taste of the Kingdom, in Callaway County near Kingdom City. Nearly the entire business is based on foods cooked in, covered by or seasoned with relishes, jams and other condiments made from chili peppers and all grown by Missouri farmers.

Mark, a retired oil-industry attorney, and Julie, also an attorney who worked for a time for humanitarian relief organizations, lived for many years in Singapore. While living in southeast Asia they developed a taste for spicy foods made with chili peppers. When the couple moved back to Missouri in 1997 they began growing their own peppers to cook with. Julie, who Mark says has a great flair for food, began making chili pepper-based condiments to give away to friends. Mark says he was surprised by the popularity of the spicy recipes.

“Coming from Asia, we suspected mid-Missouri had a bland palate, but we quickly learned that wasn’t the case,” says Mark. “Missourians like chili-style recipes if they’re not just hot. They have to be accompanied by good flavors.”

Julie and Mark decided they were on to something and launched their company four and half years ago on the family farm in Callaway County where Julie grew up. But before the Prices went commercial, hired employees and leased a large commercial kitchen, Julie spent two years developing and testing potential products and fine-tuning her recipes.

A visit to their Web site shows off the wide variety of food products, now at 13 with several more in development, that Julie has come up with to make with chili peppers. She’s developed several pepper jellies that can be spread on crackers or used as a meat glaze or to spice up a barbeque sauce. The spicy temperature of the pepper jellies starts with the Mild and Peppy and quickly runs up the scale to the Habanero Xtreme.

A Taste of the Kingdom offers sauces, jellies and other condiments and nearly all are prepared with chili peppers grown by Missouri farmers.

Interestingly, the Price’s first version of Habanero Xtreme was not hot enough, according to several people who tested it. Julie increased the heat using a higher concentration of Habanero peppers, thought to be the hottest peppers grown. Now it promises to make anyone who tries it break out in a sweat.

Other pepper jellies include one made with pecans and apples and another made with Missouri-grown black walnuts. For those who really want to heat up their taste buds, Julie has developed several sauces made with horseradish, including the Wasabi Horseradish, which combines habanero peppers and wasabi.

Julie says she has worked hard to develop tastes that are not just hot and spicy, but also full of other great flavors like apples, peaches, walnuts and soon, chestnuts.

All that work is beginning to pay off, says Mark. A Taste of the Kingdom, after being in business for several years, is expected to make its first profit this year after their sales doubled in 2003.
“The first four years were so hard,” says Julie. “We worked unbelievably hard, seven days a week. It’s all we did. But the experts will tell you that it takes four to five years of hard work to get a specialty food company like this established. That just about what it’s taking us.”

A Taste of the Kingdom is part of one of the fastest growing segments of the food industry, producing specialty packaged foods that compete well with the giants of food processing on grocery store shelves. The Prices call themselves artisan food producers.

“Artisan produced foods are typically smaller scale, family owned, high quality and all-naturally produced,” says Mark. “We’re trying to bring back more traditional ways of cooking and looking at food. It’s the opposite of fast food.”

In fact, the Prices belong to an international organization called Slow Food that encourages farmers and food producers to change the way people think about eating and cooking. Mark says the organization is trying to change the world’s fast food attitude and help farmers, particularly in developing countries.

The staff of A Taste of the Kingdom cooks up a batch of spicey treats at the company's commercial kitchen in Fulton.

The Prices have come a long way from just cooking some relishes in their kitchen for friends. Today they have two full-time and two part-time employees and several seasonal employees who help cook their spicy recipes in their Fulton commercial kitchen. Their products are in 37 states including being featured in 20 Bass Pro Shops and they sell their products online through the company’s Internet Web site.

Currently they’re buying all their chili peppers from two Missouri growers who sold the Prices 4,000 pounds of chilies last year. One of those growers is Jan Gray of Williamsburg, who stops in to tell Julie and Mark about new peppers she’s going to grow this season including a “Caribbean Red” habanero and a Czechoslovakian black pepper. Jan says there is tremendous potential for growing peppers in Missouri, where the climate is ideal and where peppers grow prolifically.

The Prices sponsored a University of Missouri ag school study of the potential to grow peppers in Missouri and found that, if markets were developed, could be a $60 million industry in the state. According to the study, an acre of peppers potentially could produce $6,300 in revenue when sold at current wholesale prices.

But as with any alternative crop, more markets have to be developed for chili peppers and, in Missouri at least, the Prices are doing their best.

“The driving force for me is our mission,” says Julie. “And that mission is trying to help each other, like family farmers, and making something that’s the best quality that you can.”

For more information about A Taste of the Kingdom e-mail hotstuff@tasteofkingdom.com. Information is also available by calling 1-888-592-5080.

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