Editor’s note: This is one in a series of occasional stories on tenants at the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator.
For 20 years, Lili Courtney taught students in cooking classes to make marinades and salad dressings to complement their main courses.
Then she decided they were good enough to sell.
“One thing just kind of led to the other,” Courtney said. “I started putting them in greasy jars and selling them at farmers markets.”
Courtney started her company, Delightful Palate, 18 months ago when she began bottling her recipes in factory-sealed bottles instead of those greasy jars.
The Delightful Palate condiments line comes in three flavors: Balsamic Garlic Honey, Wild Mayhaw Berry and Stone Fruit Nectar, made from peaches and apricots. Stores throughout south Louisiana, as well as a few gift shops in Texas, are carrying them.
Two decades ago in Alexandria, Courtney began assisting a local woman who taught cooking in people’s homes. A self-taught cook, she wasn’t comfortable in front of crowds.
“I started doing dish washing because I was too embarrassed to open my mouth,” Courtney said.
Eventually, she began teaching, too. Courtney and her partner taught classes on creating homemade pasta; cooking Chinese and Italian food; and making seasonal dishes.
Whenever she could, Courtney took weeklong cooking classes across the country and when visiting in Italy. In Alexandria, she was asked to teach regular classes at a store called Kitchen Warehouse. Courtney taught there and in Natchitoches and Lafayette until moving to Baton Rouge this year when her husband was transferred with his job.
While teaching over the years she had stirred up dozens of quick condiments depending on the season and the dish.
“These were some of the things I was doing in class anyway,” she said.
“I made them up,” she said.
Courtney saw that selling a line of dressings and marinades could strengthen her brand as a culinary instructor.
“I think they go hand in hand,” she said.
When she began selling the marinades and dressings at markets, the recipes were exactly what she made at home. They would only stay fresh a few days.
Getting serious about her business in late 2012, Courtney began working with a food incubator in Norco where she could lease time in a professional kitchen and produce her recipes for sale in stores.
“I made them up, but then I had to make them shelf stable,” Courtney said. “That’s the big thing, to make it as close as you can to the way it was in your kitchen.”
Creating a shelf-stable version of the condiments usually means exchanging a few ingredients. She was introduced to a food scientist who helped her.
“That’s been the interesting part of your science of it, to make it taste like your homemade recipe with it being shelf-stable,” she said.
Last year, she began working with the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator.
Each of the Delightful Palate products has a different application, Courtney said. The Stone Fruit Nector flavor is perfect for salad dressing or as a chicken marinade. The Baslamic Garlic Honey complements tomatoes and cheeses well.
Her Wild Mayhaw Berry marinade and dressing carries a slight spice and sweet tartness. It is her most Louisiana-centric product.
She buys the jelly for it from Springhill Jelly in Pollock. When she created it, Courtney was looking for something local.
The Wild Mayhaw Berry was featured in her Easter menu this year when she created a mayhaw bourbon brown sugar glaze for ham.
Mayhaws, tart berries that grow wild in sloughs and swamps, were unknown to shoppers in New York when she had a booth at a culinary show last year.
“I don’t know if anybody outside the next two states would understand it,” she said.
Now living in Baton Rouge, Courtney is still teaching culinary classes in Alexandria and Natchitoches and is planning to teach locally. Delightful Palate products are now in 30 stores and can be found at most locally owned grocery stores in the Baton Rouge area along with Whole Foods and Rouse’s.