In The Kitchen: Matt Jamie With Bourbon Barrel Foods

Bourbon Barrel Foods got its start in Matt Jamie’s basement in Louisville. Nearly a decade later Jamie heads up a company that has grown to 15 employees and sees visitors from all around the world sample his variety of products that range from smoked seasonings to his renowned bourbon barrel aged soy sauce. Jamie and his staff are united by their passion for the product that all have a smoky taste of Kentucky coursing through them – the smoke of bourbon barrels. With a cookbook coming up later in the year and a retail location opening up on Frankfort Avenue at the end of the month, we caught up with Jamie to hear his thoughts on the future of his company, why he’s proud to have his kids by his side and why he has a personal bottle of soy sauce on him when dining out.

TVT_2781-2With a name like Bourbon Barrel Foods, bourbon and Kentucky must have a lot of significance for yourself and the company?
I feel really lucky, because I’m part of an industry that I was enamored of growing up. The bourbon industry is sexy and has legends in it that people outside of the Kentucky area are enthralled by, but I get to have relationships in that industry. I’m also proud of the things that we ourselves have done that are pretty innovative. We’re the only micro-brewed soy sauce in the US. I’m proud of the way we have built that product around what’s been available to us in Kentucky. It’s something that hadn’t been done, and there was no good reason as to why it hadn’t.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
If I had to pinpoint something, it’s that I don’t have to do one thing during the day. I have an office and get to circulate, and so it’s different each day. The one thing that you have to do though, when you start a business from your basement is button up and start running like a business (laughs). But I love the people we have here. My best friend from childhood is my sales director, my production manager has been with me almost five years, my dad does the logistics and supply side. There is rarely a moment when I am the only one in here, and I love that I have such a great group of people here.

Where do you see Bourbon Barrel Foods in the next five years?
I want to see us continue to be innovative with our products, but also develop into a lifestyle brand where we’re selling through our retail store. The store we’re opening is in such a great location on Frankfort Avenue, right next to Carmichael’s Bookstore and Heine Brothers and Eggs Over Frankfort. We want that location to be a launching spot for new products and I want it to become a destination spot for our existing products.

How do you feel your brand is perceived?
The most amazing thing to me is how recognizable we’ve become, and we’re proud of that. People see our logo, and know who we are, and that we’re local.

Is there a favorite recipe you have for your soy sauce?
Soy sauce is the world’s oldest and widest used condiment. It’s the original all-purpose seasoning and makes everything taste good. Soy sauce is a good finishing sauce, so I wouldn’t mix it with too much. I’ve done everything from dip a cheeseburger in it, to fried chicken. I take it with me when we go out for sushi, and we encourage people to bring their own when they go out. We also do some short ribs with the soy when they’re seared, but our salt and pepper is also great. A favorite here in the office is also popcorn, seasoned with our bourbon barrel smoked paprika.

You’ve mentioned how much you love to pass on your passion about your products, is this something you love to get your kids involved with?
One of the things I enjoy the most is that they have seen me do nothing other than this their entire lives. My son and daughter will both come in and help. My son, he’s not an adventurous eater, but he likes bold flavors. My daughter is much more adventurous and has really embraced it. But they’re both here on Friday afternoons filling tins on the line, filling boxes and running them through the tape machine. It’s great because they get the same perspective as our employees. They get to see something that started from pretty much nothing and that’s grown and done well and come a long way. VT

Photo by CHRIS HUMPHRES | The Voice-Tribune