By Lorrie Baumann
Le Bon Magot® surprised the specialty food community at this year’s Summer Fancy Food Show with a display of five sofi Awards, all earned this year with the new company’s very first entries into the sofi Award competition. Naomi Mobed, the company’s Founder and CEO, launched the brand in February 2015 and then exhibited in the 2016 Summer Fancy Food Show to test its flavors with Fancy Food Show attendees before she was really ready to face the sofi Award competition. “Actually, we validated the taste and flavors of our products with trusted palates even before being incorporated into a company,” she said.
With her five 2017 sofi Awards on her shelves, Mobed is ready to scale up production to meet the demands of the national market. She’s debt-free and looking for investment capital to help her grow. “We’re keen to attract external investment and believe we have a sound and scalable business model,” she said.
Le Bon Magot currently offers just five products, all based on regional African, Middle Eastern and South Asian flavors, with sophisticated spice blends with depth and nuance that also appeal to contemporary American palates. Each of them reflects their branding – “magot” is a French word that means a hidden treasure. “The name was for a variety of reasons – one was the pure marketing reality that the common language among gourmets continues to be French,” she said. “I like the fact that it doesn’t have one specific meaning, not just a treasure, but jewels, loot, coffers, bounty and booty. Each one of our products is of a vibrant gem-like color. I came from a finance background and I am passionate about jewelry, so our name also has a tongue-in-cheek element to it.”
Her Tomato and White Sultana Chutney, winner of this year’s gold sofi Award in the condiments category, was her first product and is still her company’s top seller. The chutney marries the sweet fruitiness of tomato to Kashmiri chiles, ginger and garam masala. Next in production were the White Pumpkin and Almond Murraba and the Brinjal Caponata, made of purple aubergine, cumin and curry leaves and the winner of the bronze sofi Award in the pickles category. The Brinjal Caponata is a traditional western Indian condiment made from a recipe that came from Mobed’s grandmother by way of her mother, who tweaked it a little bit, and that Mobed herself played with also before settling on its current formulation. The White Pumpkin and Almond Murraba includes cardamom, cinnamon and vanilla in a preserve that’s traditionally used for celebrations in Central Asia and Middle East.
Spiced Raisin Marmalata won a gold sofi Award and an award for the best new product in the jam and preserves category. This product offers jumbo black raisins imported from South Africa blended with ras al hanout, dried rose petals, green cardamom and smoked cinnamon. “We wanted to recreate the oud scent but for the palate,” Mobed said. While oud is the distinctive scent of a resin found in agarwood trees that is used for incense and perfumes and valued in many cultures for its distinctive fragrance, Mobed uses smoked cinnamon alongside dried rose petals, cardamom and other spices to recreate the musky notes. Like the other products in the Le Bon Magot line, Spiced Raisin Marmalata was made to pair with cheese and charcuterie, but can also be used as a cooking ingredient, perhaps to be added to a spiced oatmeal raisin cookie or a Linzer cookie. The company’s final product is its Lemon-Sultana Marmalata with Caraway and Saffron, the winner of a bronze sofi Award in the jam and preserves category.
All of the products are made from recipes that came from Mobed’s grandmother and great-grandmother that were originally written down in a dialect that Mobed speaks but doesn’t read. Her mother translated them, interpreting measurements that came from a system that was once used across Asia but is no longer common.
Mobed is a Parsi born in Pakistan with family from India. Her father was employed in the oil industry, while her mother worked in the pharmaceuticals industry, and they raised Mobed in Iran, Hong Kong and Europe as well as in the U.S. Her first American home was in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. She left the U.S. to go to the London School of Economics when she was 21, after receiving her undergraduate degree at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. “I’d always wanted to be in the food business since the latter years of my undergraduate degree,” she said. “I was applying to grad school and culinary school. I decided to go to the London School of Economics, thinking I could do culinary later.”
Mobed lived in London after finishing her education there, eventually moved to Muscat, Oman, then came back to England, and did some more moving around from Johannesburg to Dubai and all points in-between before returning to the United States two years ago. Her business is now based in New Jersey, where she says she is settled for the immediate future. “A business settles you,” she said. “My mother lives here. My grandmother now lives here. I’m as settled as I ever will be.”
She says that, while she brings her finance experience with her into her business, making and selling food is a part of her family culture that she values highly, and a number of her female family members have flourishing food businesses around the world. “For a lot of women in Iran and Pakistan, catering and foodservice is a way for women to gain independence and empowerment without leaving their homes,” she said. “The same goes for other countries in the Middle East as well. That’s why you have so many female entrepreneurs.”