Karen Schuler Hill describes herself as a “CeltaKraut”, because of her Irish-German background, but the move from the East Coast to California and her adoption of the California lifestyle more accurately define her.
Hired to work as an apprentice in a restaurant kitchen during high school, Karen showed such love for food and willingness to learn that she became the chef’s unofficial assistant. After high school, family issues prevented her from going to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York; instead she followed her father’s footsteps into graphic arts. Eventually she pursued an early childhood interest (thanks to the television show “Bewitched”) into advertising, which she loved.
Karen met her life partner at the ad agency, and they jointly explored business ideas that would feature Karen’s creativity with food. When her partner’s position as a marketing director was relocated and they were transferred to the Bay Area in California, a whole new set of challenges and possibilities opened up.
“At first, it was complete and utter culture shock, for me at least,” Karen laughs now. “On the East Coast our friends thought people who recycled, composted and ate organic food were a bunch of Birkenstock-wearing, granola-eaters! But we both had been raised in families that were conscious of their environment, so we quickly fell in love with and embraced the California lifestyle.”
Karen wanted to wrap all the components of that lifestyle into her new venture: eating delicious, healthy, natural food; drinking great wine; taking care of the environment, such as by recycling and practicing sustainability.
"My dad always taught me that I could do anything that I set out to do, no barriers. Because of that, I never, ever think that I will fail. I just do it. So I just jumped into the research. Ras and I both love great food and wine and love to entertain. Living in the Bay Area is a constant education for us, and we want to share what we’ve learned and enjoy.”
Gradually, it became clear that a way to combine everything she loves into one food was to develop energy bars with wine flavor profiles.
“There are many people out there that know a great deal about wine. But for others it can be intimidating. These bars can break down these inhibiting barriers. We hear people say, ‘Oh, so that’s what a pinot tastes like.’ That’s the idea.”
Each bar was created to showcase the flavor notes of a particular wine varietal. One of the ways this is accomplished is by using wine flours, made from crushed wine grape seeds and skins, which are dried and ground into flour. Other ingredients are added to each bar that reflect the flavors of the particular varietal. For instance, the Cork Screw Cherry Pinot highlights the cherry notes that are characteristic of Pinot Noir.
“Repurposing an ingredient left over after wine production into our bars perfectly matches our goals,” she says. “An added benefit is that these varietal flours retain the healthy components of the grapes, such as high antioxidant levels.”
Eventually, Karen hopes to have 11 different bars, all with slightly “cheeky” names. “We use terms familiar to someone who knows about wine, such as ‘loose legs’ and put a twist on it. People who know wines think the name is clever; people who don't just think that it’s a cool name. We want it all to be fun.”