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Clement's Corner: The Entrepreneurs

Disappointment turns to amazement as the La Plantes seek backing for a new taste sensation.

Owen Clement tells an appetising tale.

To read more of Owen's stories please click on Clement's Corner in the menu on this page.

Besides scanning every magazine rack, library shelf and Internet site for information on exotic ingredients, Louis La Plante’s owned a collection of cook books, along with cooking magazines and piles of clippings, which took up one wall of the kitchen.

Complaints from his wife Irene of his singlemindness were answered by his claim that he, unlike other men, did not spend his money on gambling, booze or women. And he claimed that his interest could one day make them wealthy. New flavours, condiments and recipes were becoming more and more in demand. His discovery of something unique could turn into a taste sensation and prove his point. She would have to be patient.

Convinced by his argument, she undertook the task of sorting his shelves and set about filing his huge mass of articles and notes into some semblance of order, for which he was both delighted and grateful.

To earn his living he worked as a freelance plumber. Often he would break off the task he was undertaking to note down ideas buzzing around in his head.

With Irene he tested out his findings in their own kitchen. Their meals varied considerably. Irene duly filed away all the results under headings such as ‘Excellent’, ‘Good’, ‘Not Bad’ and ‘Bloody Awful’.

The day came when Louis had an inspired idea for new ingredients to add in the blending of spices and peppers. Without a word to her he sprinkled the new condiment over the steak he had cooked, serving it with a salad, then waited for her response.

“Is this something new?” she asked.

“It certainly is, I discovered it yesterday quite by accident.” His face beamed. “Come on, think about it. What does it remind you of?”

Irene cut off another piece of steak, popped it into her mouth and chewed thoughtfully.

“It has a slightly charred flavour.”

“Close.”

“Charcoal!”

“No.” Louis chuckled.

“There is a definite burnt taste. It reminds me of those flavours we used on barbecues years ago.”

“Close. Very close actually. I did lightly burn something and used it, though very sparingly mind you.”

Irene could not guess and was impressed when he let her into the secret. Only then did she recognize the taste.

“It’s a wonder no one has come up with it before,'' she said.

“Now remember, darling,'' he said earnestly "don't mention this to anyone. I am going to try to patent this.''

Irene looked puzzled rather than impressed.

"I'm not sure how one goes about getting a patent, but I'll find out,'' said Louis. "This could be the thing to bring us fame and fortune.''

Irene knew it would be pointless trying to dissuade Louis from continuing his quest. She also knew that the business of perfecting the product and taking out a patent would not only be a costly, but there could be other obstacles. Health regulations, for instance. No point in mentioning this while Louis was in one of his creative phases.

“I now have to get busy working out other blends and the proportions we’ll need, to be able to manufacture it in bulk,'' her husband said.

“You will try and keep the costs down, won’t you? Our finances are somewhat limited, as you know.”

Louis suggested she should try to find a venture capitalist. “There must be some wealthy entrepreneur we can convince of this product’s merit.”

Where do I start, she wondered.

Weeks later while Louis continued to perfect and extend his discovery, Irene finally found, through a financial adviser, David Meyer, an elderly investor who agreed to consider investing in the product after market research had been done and manufacturing and the distribution channels had been organized.

Louis had extended the range to half a dozen varieties. With the help of an artist friend, packaging had been designed.

Finally, with the market research done and the product tested on friends, he and Irene made an appointment to see Mr Meyer. The demonstration seemed to go well. They arranged to meet him at the end of the week when a bank cheque for the amount they had requested would be ready for them to collect. They returned with their lawyer, and an agreement was signed.

On their way home they stopped at a supermarket to collect some groceries. Louis suddenly became aware that Irene had halted and was closley examining something. He joined her and she indicated a range of products containing similar combinations of spices to those which her husband had used.

They drove straight back to the city to see Mr Meyer. He greeted them at his office door, inviting them in and indicating that they should sit down.

Louis said that would not be necessary. They did not want to take up any more of his valuable time. They merely wanted to return his cheque.

When asked why, Louis told of what they had just seen in the supermarket.

"Does this mean the end of your quest?'' Mr Meyer asked.

"Heavens no!'' said Louis. "I have lots more ideas.''

"Good,'' said Mr Meyer. "If you carefully read your contract you will see that no specific product is mentioned.''

Louis and Irene were equally puzzled.

"Keep the cheque,'' said Mr Meyer. "I am a businessman and a good judge of character, but I am also a dreamer. Come back when you have another idea and we will talk again. In the meantime, hang on to the money.''

He shook both their hands and gave Irene a kiss on the cheek.

The La Plantes left his office in a happy daze.

© Clement 2007


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