An organic adventure
Karine and Jeff’s story could have been written in the shade of plane trees or at the edge of the ocean. It happens to be set against the backdrop of the southwest of France. From one voyage to another, from one land to another and also from one dream to another, across shared moments and constantly renewed pleasures, Karine and Jeff have upheld a life and work model which brings them joy, balance and serenity.
Dance for Karine, music for Jeff
Let us imagine a shy little girl with a passion for dancing. And a young girl no less reserved but quivering with a thirst for learning. Throughout all of her teenage years, Karine gave herself over to contemplation of the greatest dancers. Little by little, an idea was born in her mind, growing to become a certainty: “In order to feel pleasure, I need to be creative.” Ever since, Karine has created her own choreographies which she happily performs throughout entire days.
And let us now imagine a boy with a passion for the guitar, for whom music symbolizes the zenith of Art. Jeff followed this artistic path for ten years, becoming a professional musician. Twenty years later, his passion has not faded: “Music made me sensitive to beauty, provided me with the ability to listen and gave me the opportunity to create freely and with pleasure.”
« A genuine duet »
One fine day, a romance developed between the dancer and the musician. For the introverted young girl, who was somewhat lacking in confidence, “the world’s doors opened”. Karine and Jeff transformed each other. He was moved by this young girl who made waves in his day-to-day life and felt very much in harmony with her, as he did with music. She, on the other hand, had found the ideal partner. When they were married, she was 18 and he was 27… Time only made their union stronger: after 23 years of marriage, they still live side by side, supporting each other while establishing lofty aims and setting future challenges.
A round the world in 80 flavors, and more…
When they were in their twenties, Jeff and Karine were already aware of the overconsumption that we engage in in our western societies. Without yet knowing that they would become leading players in the organic industry, they nevertheless had a presentiment of the importance that nature and respect for the environment would have in their professional lives.
However, Jeff, who was earning a living in a store selling musical instruments, was perfectly happy to live off love and fresh air whereas Karine, who was already very audacious, dreamt of freedom and decided to join a dance school in Los Angeles. The young musician assented to follow his muse and from this decision sprang their first journey together. Off they went to Central America and then South America!
It was the beginning of a shared passion for exploring new landscapes, cultural realities, world cuisine, new encounters, sensibilities, colors and emotions… Travelling is synonymous with adventures – some more pleasant than others, but they are always productive. Karine and Jeff would soon discover the joys of living and working abroad.
A second long voyage with a third child at the end of the road…
However, they had to go back to France… Difficult years lied ahead, where boredom and ennui could strike at any time due to a lifestyle imposed by conformity and values to which Karine and Jeff did not subscribe. Life back home eventually settled down again; Jeff took up his job in the store selling musical instruments while Karine brought up the children, caring to provide them with the life balance they needed. She nonetheless continued learning via a correspondence school in order to satiate her crave for freedom.
Yet very quickly, Karine and Jeff decided to head off again. This time they went across Europe and then into the Middle-East – where their third child was born – and finally across Africa all the way to the Cape of Good Hope. It was after this last voyage that the couple started to seriously think about a shared professional project. They sought, they thought and they dreamt. And then one thing became obvious: what they had always been passionate about, what they had always shared above all else: cooking. They realized that throughout their various voyages across the world, they were always perfectly content when developing recipes for the restaurants they had worked in.
Having so loved contemplating the mist clinging to African peaks, having taken nourishment in the beauty of the landscapes which they still evoke today with genuine emotion, they were ready. The idea was, via the food they would lovingly cook up, to provide consumers with the same colors, the same joy that the earth delivers naturally to passing travelers. With this intention firmly ingrained in their hearts, the second return to France was far easier.
A competition, a basket and some little pots…
In 1999, the couple moved to the village of Jegun in south-west France. They initially thought: just buy a lorry, some cooking pots, give that ratatouille a stir, with its colors a reflection of the fields in the Gers region – the blue of the eggplants, the green of the zucchini, the red of the tomatoes – and you’re done! Well, at least that was the impression given out, for really it was not that simple. Karine was expecting their fourth child, but the family was still living a bohemian lifestyle… They had to get up early to go to markets and fairs, supplying customers with dishes which were prepared in the kitchen of the family home. At the same time, they had to push the high plateaus of Ethiopia to the back of their minds…
Lady Luck would take a hand in the shape of two competitions for business startups which were easily won. “I went on to participate in the regional “Young People’s Challenge” with my basket and my little pots, which hadn’t been sterilized. I had nine minutes to make my case”, recalls Karine. She spoke so convincingly in Toulouse that by the end, all the members of the panel wanted to taste her dishes… She took the prize and the money went towards building their first food preparation workshop. Joachim, the couple’s fourth child, who is now fifteen years old, was born at the same time as this business startup project, which carried an evocative name: Le Bonheur est dans le Pot. (Happiness Comes in the Jar).
Fifty 50-Franc IKEA shelving units
With a small initial investment and armed with only the certainty that their project was life-affirming and packed with positive values, Karine and Jeff set forth upon it. At the wheel of their lorry, they went from their kitchen-workshop to the various agricultural outlets in the region to obtain fresh vegetables and other ingredients. All the children joined in this adventure. For them, it was pure joy. Their parents did the cooking, put their dishes into jars and labelled them.
When they set off to deliver their products, the family was once again in the back of the lorry which would soon be towing an additional trailer. For, one morning, Jeff had the idea to buy fifty 50-franc (8 dollar) shelving units to provide as presentation units for retailers… The family loved it!
What is left today of those bohemian years? “The foundations of the business”, replies Karine. “The heightened desire to share a passion and nutritional savoir-faire with the conviction that we could pull it off.” Jeff adds: “All those years are still part of me, they warm my heart.”
Karine and Jeff lived a modest lifestyle, which wasn’t easy with several children. Even the big opportunity provided by the Marciac jazz festival wasn’t enough to ensure that the family’s lifestyle could reflect the amount of work being performed. Although those summers provided an opportunity to spread their products across large tables for festivalgoers, offering them a chance to taste organic cuisine – the famous ratatouille –, they needed to find a way to increase the business productivity. This need was emphasized by the fact that demand for their products was increasing among quality Parisian shops.
The Toulouse kitchen: the intricate details of creation
In late 2001, Karine and Jeff decided to breathe new life into their initial project. Having called upon banks and obtained loans, they invested in new cooking equipment. They also left the Gers region and settled in Toulouse with their four children and their new cuisine. It was like in a fairytale: the spoons mingled, revolved, whirled. In a bigger kitchen-workshop, Jeff and Karine, more inspired than ever by world cuisine, enhanced their range of recipes and cooked up flavorsome dishes from simple ingredients, happiness and sunshine.
Music was still an important stimulating factor for Jeff and helped him in his culinary creations. “Depending on the tune that’s in my head, I will choose one ingredient or herb over another.” Like Karine, he needs to be in a good mood to cook... For her, pleasure is also the source of creativity. She finds pleasure in the freedom provided by the creative act itself. Through reading, she also discovered some models to follow: Leonardo da Vinci, Einstein and even Michael Jackson…
The Ethiopian influence on creative minds
The landscapes they discovered during their travels became for Karine and Jeff a source of inspiration and unlimited wealth. Culinary creation thus became an opportunity to recall souvenirs, impressions and emotions.
In 2005, the books were balanced, the company was hiring new people and the range of dishes made from cereals and vegetables had diversified by the month. For Karine, the Thai Soup remains one of the brand’s biggest successes: “in addition to its qualities in terms of nutrition and taste, it also keeps its promise of being enjoyable for everyone: children, elderly people, adults who are interested in good-tasting food. And above all elkse, it comforts and provides the opportunity for people to gather together around a universally convivial dish: the soup.” In Jeff’s artistic mind, another dish reminds him, day after day, of the African jungle and the taste of faraway lands: lentil and red kuri squash tagine…
The Revel kitchen
In 2005, the situation of the family business was improving and, in the years to come, Karine and Jeff would start presenting their products at international exhibitions and trade fairs: in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Spain… and even in Hong Kong. 2012 saw the birth of their seventh child. However, the workshop in Toulouse had become old, cramped and ill-adapted to the colorful dishes which sprang from their creators’ fertile minds.
The family remained in the house in Toulouse, but Karine and Jeff put together plans for a new location, which would host their future activities. They were careful to choose an area that reflected their energy and sought advice from a geobiology specialist. They wanted to install their business according to the presence of telluric current and had already anticipated for a future extension. They eventually chose a piece of land, which had previously never been farmed.
The couple were delighted to find this noble soil which had never been tarnished with chemical treatments (insecticides, pesticides) or genetically modified crops. In 2011, Karine and Jeff set their business in this singular place: Located at the foothills of the Black Mountains, where the pure water of the Haut-Languedoc Regional National Preserve flows; The same water that is now used to make the soups.
Spreading their wings to the world
These new installations allowed the family business to improve productivity and increase capacity. Innovations were at the order of the day: in 2013, Manuel, the couple’s eldest son, opened the first organic restaurant-boutique in Toulouse; in 2015, Karine received the Trophy for Innovation, which rewards female entrepreneurs. This distinction brought added value to Le Bonheur est dans le Pot and the work accomplished thus far.
However, Karine did not stop there. She used her boundless energy to carry out her cherished mission: more than ever, she wished to convey her passion for healthy food and to play an active role in educating people regarding their health and wellbeing…
As for Jeff, he shared her ideas and kept a watchful eye on the family’s happiness. He maintained the kitchens, looking after the installations with the eye for detail, which distinguishes him as an excellent artisan. He made sure to attend to everyone’s needs. He improved his local environment by overseeing the plantation of hundreds of trees… At the same time, the peerless business leader that Karine had become was heading out into international markets and was, once more, making waves in Jeff’s day-to-day life. The summer of 2015 provided the chance to go on two study/business trips to the United States. The products were so well-received, that as early as October 2015, American and Canadian distributors were placing orders for their first products.
Today, after a journey of more than twenty-three years, Karine and Jeff still share the conviction that one of life’s fundamental values can be found in organic food. They are committed to spreading the gospel with passion and sensitivity. Karine and Jeff are indeed the living proof that it is possible to live “differently”.