A homegrown business has produced an award-winning recipe, which its creators are eager to take public.
A shiitake-and-onion soup mix, developed by LaVanya Watkins with the help of her family, was one of two winning recipes to be recognized in the Ohio Signature Food Contest sponsored by the Center for Innovative Food Technology and the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.
The basis for the food mix starts at Tiger Mushroom Farms, started by Te'Lario and LaVanya Watkins' son, Te'Lario II. The 9-year-old started the garden two years ago at the family home in Blacklick as part of a Cub Scouts of America project.
It ultimately developed into Tiger Mushroom Farms, because the product could be grown indoors year-round, the elder Te'Lario Watkins said.
The family started tinkering with other styles of mushrooms but the shiitakes seemed to work the best. LaVanya Watkins is credited with developing the final product.
"I like to dibble and dabble," she said. "I like good food."
Over the next year, the Center for Innovative Food Technology will help the Watkins family with everything from package design to store placement, said Jim Konecny, spokesman for the Toledo-based organization.
"We'll help them with virtually every facet, from where they are now to the market," Konecny said.
The awards were announced Aug. 1. The other winner was Charles Garrett of Newton Falls, who designed a hot-pepper relish.
Te'Lario Watkins said the savory mix, which comes in 2-ounce packets that cost $5, can be used to season burgers, chicken, pot roast and dips.
The Watkinses, who also have a daughter, Kennedy, started marketing their soup mix more than a year ago, dehydrating the mushrooms and mixing the spices at home. They made stops at various local farmers markets across the city.
But the Ohio Department of Agriculture stepped in, telling the family it couldn't sell the mix for retail because they didn't have a licensed kitchen at home, Te'Lario Watkins said.
So it is now produced, to the family's specifications, by North Market Spices, which has a licensed commercial kitchen, Te'Lario Watkins said.
He said he hopes he can lease some space in a licensed kitchen so the family can start making it themselves. Mr. Watkins hopes to retain the services of North Market Spices for the local market.
Tiger Mushroom Farms has made the younger Te'Lario Watkins a bit of a celebrity, including an interview with TV host Steve Harvey.
"He's really outgoing, never meets a stranger, a friendly kid," his father said. "He has whatever it is, when someone says, 'He has it.' "
Te'Lario II, who last year attended West Elementary School in the Licking Heights Local School District and is being home-schooled this year, said he enjoys the enterprise.
"I like growing mushrooms and it's fun to sell them at the farmers markets," he said.
The family is still on the local farmers-market circuit.
A market schedule is available at tigermushroomfarms.com.