All it takes is a teaspoon—and not a heaping one at that.
“You just level it off and pour it in,” Richard Bennett said. “Then you shake it up.”
He shakes his mixture of I.Cheewawa Bloody Mary Mix in a tomato juice-filled sifter while explaining. Make that his award-winning I.Cheewawa mix, a recipe he developed with his wife, Tara.
I.Cheewawa walked away with a silver medal at the fifth annual international Drunken Tomato Awards’ Seasoning Division, along with a bronze medal in the Hot & Spice Division.
Not bad for a small Baton Rouge-based business among a field of international competitors. The fact that I. Cheewawa is salt-free makes it even better.
Bennett pours the I.Cheewawa-tomato juice mix into a glass of ice, then embellishes it with toothpicks filled with olives, smoked sausage and pickled okra.
This demonstration is for taste purposes. Vodka also is available for an authentic bloody mary, but the mix has a way of enhancing the tomato juice, alone.
For many, the I.Cheewawa mix is the perfect blend of spice and taste.
“You can just drink it with the juice, and a lot of people are using it as a cooking seasoning now,” Bennett said.
But if cooking is your interest, the Bennetts have you covered on that, as well. They developed a line of spicy food seasonings under the I.Cheewawa brand long before the bloody mary mix came into play.
The reason for all of this creativity? Richard Bennett’s triple bypass heart surgery in 2015. He knew he had to change his diet, which meant maintaining a healthy blood pressure.
To do that, he had to back off salt, yet being a Louisianan, he loved well-seasoned food. So, he and Tara began experimenting with seasonings by adding and subtracting ingredients until they came up with what they considered the perfect taste — sans salt.
The result was I.Cheewawa’s spicy Hurricane Dust seasonings, Category 5 and Category 4 flavorings. Category 4 is slightly milder than Category 5, and both can be used to season just about anything from steaks to crawfish.
It can even be used as a barbecue rub or incorporated into ice cream toppings.
“I decided that there wasn’t anything I had tried that it was not good on, so I said, ‘Well, let me make some pralines with the Category 4,'” Richard Bennett said. “The whole intent was to get a sweet and spicy flavor.”
When the pralines didn’t harden, he put the syrupy mixture into jars and used them as an ice cream topping.
“It turned out fantastic,” Richard Bennett said. “I kept the recipe so I could replicate it.”
Some jars were sold, others were used by the Bennetts’ granddaughter. But the couple is thinking about putting the topping back in their product lineup.
For now, they’re focusing only on their Hurricane Dust seasonings and bloody mary mix. If you’re wondering about the brand name, the Bennetts named it in honor of their Chinese crested Chihuahua.
“Actually, in Spanish, you say ‘i-cheewawa’ as an exclamation, like when you hit your finger with a hammer, or, ‘Ooh, that’s spicy,'” Richard Bennett said. “So, we changed the spelling, making it like a name — initial I, followed by Cheewawa.”
Richard Bennett always liked cooking, so he and Tara decided to restructure their kitchen while remodeling their house after the 2016 flood in Baton Rouge.
They enlarged their sink and made other accommodations to meet their needs. Little did they know, they’d soon be producing salt-free, Louisiana-based seasoning full-time. The seasonings were such a success in both taste and health that Richard Bennett’s cardiologist started ordering them. Then came the bloody mary mix.
“We love the taste of the seasonings so much that we decided that we could probably turn it into a bloody mary mix by adding the extra ingredients,” Tara Bennett said. “The extra ingredients being the Worcestershire powder, celery seed, orange and lemon, paprika — all the things that normally are in extra bottles at a bar to make a bloody mary we found all the powdered versions of it.”
Which simplifies the entire process, as demonstrated earlier by Richard Bennett. Just a level teaspoon is all you need for the perfect bloody mary.
I.Cheewawa Specialty Products can be found at 30 Baton Rouge area locations, including Rouse’s Markets, Carter’s Supermarkets and Oak Point Fresh Markets. Some restaurants, including Old School BBQ & Smokehouse, also is selling the seasonings and bloody mary mixes.
And while the Bennetts are in talks to sell their products in other stores and eateries, they also offer their products online at icheewawaspecialty.com.
I. Cheewawa Specialty Products are packaged in the Lafayette area. The Bennetts pick up their pallets every two weeks and distribute them to local grocery stores.
For now, they’re a two-person operation, but they’re preparing for the day the company grows past current capabilities. Will they have to hire help? Perhaps. Probably.
But that’s in the future. For now, they’re in total control of this product line that Tara Bennett has shipped as far as Italy. Yes, foodies in Italy have ordered I.Cheewawa seasonings online.
Why not? Louisiana is world-famous for its food.
And this is food where a level teaspoon goes a long way.