'Cajun boy' finds career with taste of home

Last updated 05:00 26/11/2012
Ralph Jaeger
HOT ITEMS: Cajun food importer Ralph Jaeger with some of his products.

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Cajun food from Ralph Jaeger's home town of New Orleans is now stocked at about 70 supermarkets nationwide, imported directly from Louisiana.

Just over two years ago, the Paraparaumu Beach resident began ordering shipments of jambalaya mix, gumbo base and Cajun seasoning from the biggest packaged Cajun food supplier in the United States, the Louisiana Fish Fry Company.

Jaeger secured the exclusive licence to sell the products in New Zealand and Australia, and first started selling the items at the Paraparaumu Beach market on Saturdays. Jaeger quickly developed a love for hosting food demonstrations and introducing people to the foods he had enjoyed all his life.

"When I retired [from being a communications specialist], I sort of got bored and my wife said, ‘Well, we eat Cajun food, all your friends and family eat Cajun food - why don't you introduce it to New Zealanders?' So I did a bit of research and found that not a single supermarket in New Zealand had any ethnic Cajun food products anywhere," Jaeger said.

New World at Chaffers Dock was the first supermarket to stock his Cajun spices, rice dishes and sauces in mid-2010 and now more than 70 New World and Pak 'n Save supermarkets have the products on their shelves. Marketing and distribution contractors begin tackling the Auckland market on his behalf this week.

Jaeger regularly travels the country doing in-store demonstrations, showing people how to cook the food and offering tastings.

"I love talking about Cajun food, I love introducing people to Cajun food. It's not even like it's work to me, it's like having fun. Cajun food, generally speaking, is hot and spicy. But the products I sell - the rice dishes - aren't all that spicy. But it's the taste."

Most meals cooked the Cajun way start with sauteed onion, capsicum and celery. Jaeger explained that cayenne pepper was the point of difference in Cajun food. While Mexican food used chillies for heat, Cajun used only white, black and cayenne peppers.

According to the Louisiana Fish Fry company's website, Cajun food developed in New Orleans kitchens in the 1700s. "The Cajuns . . . were a hearty people accustomed to roughing it," the website stated. "Their meals more than likely came out of one pot, one dish which combined all of the natural ingredients of south Louisiana; fish, rice, pungent spices, shellfish and abundant vegetables."

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The products Jaeger imports from its range include seasoned coatings for frying fish and chicken in, gumbo mix, jambalaya mix, rice and red beans mix and hot sauce. Meeting the costs of Customs checks and getting large enough volumes to reduce the per-unit price was a challenge at first but sales have grown rapidly.

"I've been here more than 40 years but I'll always be that Cajun boy," Jaeger said.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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