The Fried Lentils that Brought a National Food Award Home to Jax

BY LAUREN TITUS / PHOTOGRAPHY BY MICHELLE CALLOWAY | JANUARY 30, 2019

Sharlay Smith produces six different flavors of gourmet fried lentils with a family recipe that's unbeatably delicious. Recipes and culinary skills have frequently been passed down from generation to generation. What is less common is the ability to turn those traditional dishes into an award-winning business. Such was the case for Sharlay Smith, owner of The Lentil House Gourmet Fried Lentils, whose initial product launch is helping to put Northeast Florida on the map of good food nationally. How did it happen that Smith’s lentils ended up winning a national competition just 12 months after she began to sell them? “Never in a million years would I have thought I would be a winner of the 2019 Good Food Awards snack category,” said Smith. “This is my first time getting into in the food industry, first time winning a national contest and first time hearing people introduce me as an award-winning food artisan,” says Smith. “I feel blessed, and have to definitely thank my family, fans and Natasha Parks at Duval Extension Office for supporting me.” Created by the Good Food Foundation, the Good Food Awards is an annual competition for outstanding American craft food producers. Smith almost passed up the opportunity to enter the contest because she didn’t think her product would qualify in its first year of existence. Of the six flavors Smith produces, she submitted the turmeric lentils, the variety her mom used to make. With over 2,000 entries, Smith admits she was shocked to win. When she was growing up, little did she imagine that by helping her mother make fried lentils, she would learn a life-changing skill. An educator by profession, Smith was teaching in the local school system when she made a decision at the end of the 2017 school year to take a break and pursue other goals, one of which was to work for herself. As she considered the types of activities that brought her joy, she reflected back on her childhood, remembering when she would help her mother make the family's favorite snack, fried lentils. “My mom and her friends would get together and cook; they were always learning new things about cooking,”says Smith. “That’s how my mom learned to cook fried lentils, and later on I learned

Before quitting her job, Smith had been putting her own twist on the lentils over the years when she made them for her children, and shared the snack with friends and co-workers. A versatile and crunchy snack, the lentils can be eaten out of the bag or sprinkled on top of soups, salads, yogurt or ice cream. “Everyone loved the fried lentils as much as I do. I soon realized that making the lentils was something I really enjoy doing and was the one thing that I thought would not feel like work,” says Smith. Other than bake sales and fundraisers for non-profit organizations, Smith was new to the food business. In October 2017 she took a course at the UF/IFAS Duval County Extension office on Cottage Food Law, which provided her with the tools to start a business out of her home. According to Florida law, an individual can produce and sell certain "cottage food" products from their home's unlicensed kitchen, and are not required to obtain a license or permit from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. One of the guest speakers in the class was Brian Lapinski, owner of Down to Earth Farm in Jacksonville. Smith talked to Lapinski about the possibility of sourcing lentils from him. He was interested in the business idea and invited Smith to be a vendor at Down to Earth during the Slow Food Tour de Farm in November 2017. That was the first opportunity for Smith to unveil The Lentil House Gourmet Fried Lentils. “They turned out to be a huge hit,” says Smith. She has since participated in local farmers’ markets and popup events such as the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens ZooLights Artisan Market 2018. “This year has truly been an incredible journey for me,” she says. After discovering how much she loves being a food artisan, what's next for Smith and The Lentil House? Her main goal is to continue building her brand and business both locally and nationally. “The coolest experience for me was being invited to come back and share my experience with the students in the cottage business class that I took the year before,” says Smith.” That was a very special honor to return to where I began my journey to encourage others to pursue their business ideas and dreams.”

 

For more information on The Lentil House and where to find Sharlay's gourmet fried lentils, visit her website.  Article from Edible Northeast Florida at http://ediblenortheastflorida.ediblecommunities.com/eat/fried-lentils-good-food-awards-sharlaysmith-jax Copyright ©2019 Edible Northeast Florida. All rights reserved 

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