When I graduated from CMU, I started writing and editing for a number of magazines. When I got asked to do a profile on another recent CMU grad, who was also a non-trad student, I jumped at the chance. Read the unedited version here:
Colorado Style Meets Southern Chow Chow
Lee Mathis ’08 Wins National Good Foods Award
Lee Mathis, south Jersey born and bred, has tastes that span the country while the rebel in him breaks culinary rules — much to the delight of everyone who tastes his creations. By mixing the heat of the southwest with the good old southern charm of chow chow, a sort of relish which historically mixes “anything your mom grows in the garden,” Mathis has expanded from the cheesecakes that got him his culinary start into a new and exciting venture. And it has begun to win him accolades across cultures and geographical regions.
Mathis started Decadence Foods in 2004 while still in culinary school at WCCC after his professor, Chef Jon St. Peter, tasted a cheesecake he brought to class and asked where he could buy one. Within three months, Mathis had begun his cheesecake business. He expanded into single serving jars by a chance remark from culinary program director Dan Kirby. After several years of impressive growth, the Cheesecake in a Jarâ business hit hard times with the 2008 recession. Then, while making inroads into the gourmet food market in Virginia, Mathis discovered southern chow chow. He just thought it needed a bit of heat.
“You can tell I’m not a sane person,” Mathis says, smiling, “I put ghost peppers in cheesecake.” Sane or not, his mix of flavors is getting him noticed. The biggest hurdle for Mathis is to gain public awareness for chow chow outside of the South. “I do tastings like the [upcoming] barrel tasting in Palisade. And I just did one at Fisher Market. If people try [my chow-chow] they buy it. And they buy it again, and again, and again. It’s a matter of letting people know about it.”
Mathis entered his Colorado Style Southern Chow Chow in the Good Foods Awards where he won in the Pantry Division. This has garnered him national attention and opportunities to expand across the U.S. “Cheesecake built my business, but this [chow chow] is going to surpass it, probably this year,” Mathis says. While Mathis is excited about the growth in demand and market, he is passionate about quality control “I’m expanding carefully,” he says. “I’ve never missed an order, never been late on an order. And it better taste the same each time. Same ingredients, same vessels, same cooking time and heat.”
Two new flavors of chow chow are in the pipeline for 2016, Peach Chow Chow (“I live in Palisade… How can I not make a peach flavor!”) and an as-yet-unnamed super-hot version. We can’t wait to try them!