Corn Maiden Foods: A Labor of Love

Corn Maiden Foods (CMF) was founded in 1994 by Chef Pascal Dropsy to produce his fusion concept of European and Mexican flavors known as Euro-Mex. Dropsy was confident: He had experience running Michelin Star-rated restaurants in Europe in addition to being a personal chef to Hollywood celebrities such as Sylvester Stallone, Jerry Weintraub and Aaron Spelling.

As all great chefs do, Dropsy worked tirelessly to make a name for himself. While working as executive chef at California’s St. Mark’s club and restaurant, Dropsy had a food critic from the Los Angeles Times come to review his cuisine.

“She was blown away by my tamales,” explains Dropsy. “She said, ‘If you start your own business I will write about you.’” A few months later Dropsy founded CMF as a gourmet tamale company that began in Culver City, Calif.

The specialty food company was built upon three varieties of unusual tamales developed by Dropsy. “There was a goat cheese; sun-dried tomato and basil; a duck, ginger and sun-dried apricot; and a scallop, leek and saffron,” he recalls. “Everyone who tried it loved it. It was very unusual at the time; no one had ever done gourmet tamales before.”

CMF now manufactures, distributes and retails its line of Euro-Mex products throughout the United States. The company’s signature line of hand-tied gourmet tamales and sauces was the building block to a variety of products. The line has since expanded to include other Euro-Mex items, including burritos, chimichangas, enchiladas, empanadas, flautas, quesadillas and taquitos.

Dropsy’s hard work paid off. The company has grown significantly, as CMF is now a USDA Certified Plant, with the capacity of both a bakery and food manufacturer-processor in the Los Angeles area. The distinction of being both a bakery and USDA-certified food processor creates an added value, ensuring CMF can produce and distribute a wider variety of products, manufactured in-house from start to finish.

Gourmand Grande

Dropsy studied a broad spectrum of culinary arts in Belgium, allowing him to build a reputation for developing unusual combinations in California. The tamales came about as one of many flavor experiments, but Dropsy drew additional inspiration from his ex-wife, a native from the Santo Domingo Pueblo in New Mexico. She learned the art of making traditional tamales from her family as a little girl. “I came up with the unique fillings,” explains Dropsy. “But she taught me the traditional method and how to tie them up.”

Dropsy has since remarried, and since 2001 he and wife Jannette have jointly overseen all operations of the company. Together, the husband and wife team have grown CMF from a 10,000-square foot facility in Westchester, Calif., to its current 38,000-square foot facility located in Harbor City, Calif., with a move in 2006.

Customers can order unique goodies from CMF’s website, or purchase a favorite at supermarkets around the country. CMF has something for everyone. The range of products includes Southwestern flavors and edgier combinations, as well as meat and vegan options. Some of the unusual combinations include turkey with fresh cranberries, as well as pork with wild mushrooms and red port sauce. The online store also offers 10 different types of sauces for the tamales, ranging from sweet to super spicy for such cravings.

CMF also has a line of sweet and tasty dessert tamales, featuring fillings like Belgian chocolate, raspberry and candied walnuts to caramelized apple cinnamon and butterscotch, as well as pumpkin currants and Jamaican rum. A special section offers more familiar flavors for picky eaters, of course. Traditional flavors are available in plain sweet corn, grilled chicken, carnitas (pork) and beef fillings. CMF’s tamales are priced in the range of $22 to $33 per dozen, with sauces ranging from $2.50 to $5 for 8 ounce cups.

Up for the Challenge

The company is doing well overall despite the state of the economy. Though it has been a really rough couple of years, CMF has made the necessary changes to adapt to the economy and demographics of the area. According to Dropsy, CMF’s largest obstacles in 2012 have been taxes and commodities prices.

“Food prices are going up like crazy,” says Dropsy. “Margins are getting smaller and smaller and that makes it difficult for us to compete.” For the time being the team is staying focused on co-packing partnerships, as CMF continues to produce its fine tamales for a variety of chains like Bristol Farms and White Rose.

Co-packing takes up a major portion of the business’ time and resources. “We haven’t had many opportunities to introduce new product lately,” says Dropsy. Luckily, CMF has longstanding relationships with suppliers that ease materials acquisition and offer consistent quality in products and service.

“For the most part my suppliers stay the same,” explains Dropsy. “When I’m happy I stay with them. We’ve used the same companies for our packaging, corn products and spices for a long time.” Because of changing commodity pricing, CMF has changed up packaging. In order to keep costs down, Dropsy says, “Retailers now don’t care as much about packaging. The customers don’t eat the packaging. Taste, shelf life, quality and price points are now their main concern.”

CMF will continue to produce gourmet tamales for a long time, although Dropsy thinks the future may have something else in store for him. Dropsy maintains his mission to share his love for culinary arts through yet another passion: teaching.

“I’ve taught several classes,” explains Dropsy. “I did several pastry courses at UCLA.” Ideally, Dropsy would like to work on gradually expanding the company for another five-to-seven years, and then possibly sell it.

“After that I may start a cooking school,” he says. “Running a company like this is a lot of pressure.” According to Dropsy, he likes Colorado and says it may be a good place for a school.

Regardless of where Dropsy’s ambitions take him, the team at CMF will continue spreading passion for food and delicious tamales across the United States. The gourmet and Hispanic market is growing and, as the economy turns around and margins return to the business, CMF will continue to introduce customers to unique flavor combinations in a classic format. Dropsy’s CMF is an unusual establishment, and Corn Maiden Foods’ one-of-a-kind products will continue to grow in demand as a labor of love.