or bust,” says Larry Leibowitz (’99), “it doesn’t
He has reason to feel secure
in the roller coaster dot-com world. Much of it is because Leibowitz,
an executive chef with a Fortune 500 company in Boston, and his business
partner Dean Dzurilla (a marketing analyst), have a different philosophy
about the value of the Internet.
“It’s a vehicle
to promote our business and generate buzz about our products and classes,”
is the another difference with this company. LarrysBest.com promotes
and sells not software development, Internet provider services, marketing
tools nor database kits — but salad dressings.
A second part of the company,
Gourmet-Knowledge.com, brings Chef Leibowitz into your home for personalized
Plus, these are side gigs.
“I haven’t given up the world,” Leibowitz emphasizes.
Leibowitz creates his salad
dressings during off hours from his corporate catering job. And through
his Gourmet Knowledge cooking series, Leibowitz teaches basic and intermediate
cooking techniques and recipes to individuals and groups. His classes
focus on creating simple desserts, the Best of Asia, the Best of Italy
and seasonal recipes highlighting specific ingredients and holidays.
As for his full-time work,
at 26, Leibowitz is young in culinary years, and spends much of his
day designing menus, controlling food and labor costs, purchasing supplies
and managing people twice his age.
“It’s not as
much cooking as it is number crunching and menu planning,” he
explains, “but I consider myself to be very hands-on. The only
way to gain respect is to roll up your sleeves and show them you’re
one of them.”
Leibowitz came to JMU after
finishing a 21-month associate’s degree at the rigorous Culinary
Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. There, he learned the food end
of things; at JMU, he learned the business end. Now he’s combined
them both in both his full- and part-time work.
“Food is definitely
my passion. I wanted to be a chef for as long as I can remember,”
says Leibowitz, who haunts Boston’s downtown farmer’s market
for Asian pears, mangos and tangerines. A self-described fusion chef,
he focuses on fresh ingredients as the most important part of what he
does. And that translates from recipes for apple- and walnut-stuffed
pork loin to recipes for balsamic vinaigrette and the other dressings
he creates for corporate accounts in the Boston area.
Leibowitz has four core dressings: Balsamic Vinaigrette, Classic Caesar,
Honey Sherry Dijon and Wild Berry. He also creates seasonal dressings
like Thai Curry and creamy Roquefort Pear (his favorite). “If
I’m going to make a real mango tangerine vinaigrette, I’m
going to use real mangos and tangerine juice.”
The Gourmet Knowledge classes
and LarrysBest.com came about as an unlikely partnership between Leibowitz,
who knows nothing about computers, and Dzurilla, who knows nothing about
cooking. Leibo-witz’s early plans — to sell the dressings
retail online as well as in farmer’s markets, vegetable stands
and gourmet groceries — were modified, mostly because of the nature
of the dressings: With no preservatives, they have a shelf life of 21
days. Now the Web site functions as a marketing tool for landing and
maintaining Leibowitz’s corporate accounts.
The other unexpected plus
of internet-based sales and promotion is communication with his customers.
LarrysBest.com features a free subscription newsletter and recipes supplied
by Leibowitz and his customers.
that if you give people quality and timely information, they are more
than happy to tell you a little bit about themselves,” says Leibowitz.
People send enthusiastic e-mail feedback on the dressings and on his
recipes, and send him their own recipes as well. “As we get closer
to updating the site, one of the features we are playing with is creating
a community of salad lovers so they can exchange recipes and ideas.”
As for financial success,
while Leibowitz won’t quote numbers, he does say, “People
are willing to pay a premium price, and unit sales have far exceeded
Maybe it’s the combination
of internet and interpersonal, hightech and high cuisine, buzz and spice,
that seems to be the secret to success. Or as Leibowitz says, “It
might be just that they taste so damn good.”
Leibowitz also teaches
classes in cooking at the Boston Center of Adult Education, and he has
willing students at home — his two roommates. Leibowitz cooks
at home maybe two or three times a week (“I work a good amount
of hours.”) and has passed along his techniques to them. “This
apartment is probably the best cookin’ apartment on the block.”
The apple- and walnut-stuffed
pork loin was this week’s dish. “Something that you can
eat all week,” Leibowitz explains matter-of-factly. “You
just cook it once and reheat the leftovers.”
That’s some leftovers.
Let your mouth water at larrysbest.com.
Story by Cara Ellen Modisett