Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Philly-Area Couple Blending Spicy Product Line Momma Vi's Brand Getting Ahead with Classes, Investment and a Top Chef

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Philly-Area Couple Blending Spicy Product Line Momma Vi's Brand Getting Ahead with Classes, Investment and a Top Chef

Article excerpt

LANSDOWNE -- It was a serendipitous meeting that could prove to be a turning point for Antoine and Kenosha Skinner and their fledgling spice company.

At the very least, it was a cool encounter for two small- business novices trying to make a name for their Momma Vi's all- natural, gluten-free, free-of-iodized-salt, hand-blended seasonings.

On Tuesday, the Lansdowne couple was in the communal kitchen at the Center for Culinary Enterprises in West Philadelphia, where they pay to use commercial cooking facilities.

They were sterilizing Mason jars and preparing to mix a batch of one of their flavor-packed creations when "Top Chef" champ Kevin Sbraga, owner/operator of Sbraga on South Broad Street, walked through on a tour.

Introductions were made, and soon Antoine Skinner was pouring tiny samples of his line into a hand Mr. Sbraga had eagerly extended.

"Mmmmmm. That's really good," the chef said after tasting a concoction the Skinners call Northern BBQ Rub and Seasoning.

Then came sprinklings of Sweet Memphis Blues, Asian BBQ, Ebony Smoked Salt, Szechuan Salt, and Island Jerk Seasoning and Rub. Mr. Sbraga's acute palate detected anise in one: "That's really nice!" A touch of sour in another elicited praise for "getting that saliva going."

The chef asked for the Skinners' business card and about their target market.

"Anybody who has money," Mr. Skinner said, laughing.

Perhaps as valuable was this review Mr. Sbraga offered in a quick interview before he moved on: "Some of the things I tasted today are going to inspire me."

And then the Skinners, who seemed amazingly unrattled by the spontaneous business pitch they had just given, turned back to the task at hand -- a bowl of garlic, thyme, black pepper, crushed red pepper, cumin seed, sugar, and a dash of Himalayan pink salt that retails as Hot Island Jerk Seasoning.

For Mr. Skinner, a former West Virginia University tight end and banker, and his wife of eight years who has sidelined a career in forensic medicine to devote herself to the spice business, it is an entrepreneurial pursuit born of health concerns -- his in particular.

Now 36, he was diagnosed with high blood pressure 11 years ago. …

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