Earl Fultz, who, with the help of his late wife, Gloria Elmaleh Fultz, brought the taste of Morocco to the North Fork and beyond, died Sept. 18. He was 95.
In his late 80s, Mr. Fultz founded cHarissa, a company marketing a milder version of the Moroccan spice harissa, in honor of his wife. cHarissa is today sold to chefs and fans across the country and has become a favorite of the New York Yankees’ head chef and is available at Yankee Stadium. It also won the Specialty Food Association SOFI award for best “cooking, dipping or finishing sauce” at the Summer Fancy Food Show in 2015, among other accolades.
“It’s rare to find somebody who had such single-minded obsession about something as he did about cHarissa,” said Mr. Fultz’s son, Oliver, who is a medical writer living in Chicago. “He said he’d wake up happy everyday because of the challenge and the excitement he felt developing this. How many of us ever feel that kind of excitement in life?”
Mr. Fultz lived at Peconic Landing in Greenport.
Jeri Woodhouse, his healthcare proxy and power of attorney, said she was a friend and business partner to Mr. Fultz for many years. She said she was stunned that Mr. Fultz died.
“I thought he’d live forever,” she said. “I got a call from the doctor who had treated him the week before and she asked, ‘could I come right away?’ ”
By the time Ms. Woodhouse arrived, Mr. Fultz was in a coma and a few days later, he had passed. He had been admitted to the hospital for an infection, she said.
Ms. Woodhouse, who now oversees cHarissa, helped create the so-called ‘spice of life’ and turn it into a marketable product — something she often does for private individuals and companies.
“Earl is the first person that I ever continued to work with,” she said, “because I was fascinated by him and his determination.”
Ms. Woodhouse described Mr. Fultz as “a man with great intellect and amazing energy.”
Randee Daddona of Southold, who filmed a six-minute Emmy award-winning short on Mr. Fultz in 2015, spoke similarly of his character, saying that he had the greatest sense of humor, loved his wife dearly and made it his mission “to pay it forward.” She was introduced to Mr. Fultz through Ms. Woodhouse and said she was taken aback by the news.
“I think he strived for winning — but it was more like, ‘I want my wife’s name there,’ ” Ms. Daddona said. “‘I want everyone to know what she created, worldwide.’ ”
The women said Mr. Fultz was charming; a social butterfly, but that he could be a spitfire when he needed to.
“He was so in love with [Gloria],” longtime neighbor Rita Hagerman said.
Ms. Hagerman works with Academy Printing Services, Inc. and helped Mr. Fultz create promotional materials and signage for The Earl and Gloria Elmaleh Fultz Fund he created to prevent diabetes in youth and promote healthy living. The Hagermans had been friends with Mr. Fultz and his wife for over 30 years.
“He was not a man who showed emotions, really,” Ms. Hagerman said. “He was a fighter … but you saw his caring.”
When Ms. Elmaleh Fultz fell ill, she urged her husband to take the product to market because “she knew she was dying and [that] he was so in love with her that he couldn’t see life without her,” Ms. Daddona said.
Oliver Fultz said his father and stepmother, Ms. Elmaleh Fultz, entertained friends a great deal and that during that time, Ms. Elmaleh Fultz developed cHarissa “to blend sort of traditional Middle Eastern flavors and tastes with American tastes.” He said for his father to have met Ms. Elmaleh Fultz and for everything to have played out the way it made for a unique set of circumstances.
“She was very ill with Emphysema and she wanted him to have something to do once she passed because she knew he’d be really bored,” Ms. Woodhouse said. “He wasn’t like an ordinary man who could watch TV or go play cards with the men.”
Ms. Elmaleh Fultz died in 2013, but her husband kept her memory alive by way of cHarissa. The company not only established a foothold in Greenport, where the couple lived, but nationwide.
“He loved it, he believed in it, he talked to people and he began to develop a real following,” Ms. Woodhouse said. “By the time we were making the product, [Gloria] was pretty much bedridden, but every time [Earl] would come home from the market, he would give her the money and she would count it.”
Ms. Daddona said she thinks cHarissa kept Mr. Fultz alive after his wife’s death. He was said to always be brimming with ideas, but never deviating from who he was or what his wife created. He inspired a wet and dry version of the spice, which is made with chili peppers, cumin and cayenne pepper, as well as a mild and hot version – though his wife’s original recipe was never altered. Even when his eyesight started going and his mobility impaired, Ms. Woodhouse said, he had an idea-a-minute.
“He just kept going and going and going, really, until he couldn’t do it anymore … When he wanted to do something, nothing would stand in his way.”
The entrepreneur, who would have turned 96 in two months, had an accomplished early life, too, having served as a speech writer and partner in a production company, according to the two women.
Ms. Woodhouse said she hopes to continue Mr. Fultz’s legacy.
Photo caption: Earl Fultz of cHarissa, first place winner of the SOFI award, proudly holds award won in the category for cooking, dipping or finishing sauce at the Summer Fancy Food Show in 2015. (Credit: Randee Daddona)