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Made for the Taste

“What’s the hottest one you’ve got?”
When we’re selling direct to the public with tasters available, that’s a question we get asked a lot!  My usual response is “Well, that’d be our Habanero and Naga Sauce but none of them are crazy hot; they’re all made for the taste rather than the pain factor.  There’s no chemical extracts used, it’s just the natural heat of the chillies.  It’s still hot but there’s bags of flavour too.  It’s not going to feel like someone’s driven a nail through your tongue for 2 hours after you’ve tried it”  Or something along those lines…

Why “Made for the Taste”?
Before I got into the business I’d tried a lot – and I mean A LOT – of hot sauces and most of the time all I was tasting was vinegar with heat, leaving me feeling somewhat underwhelmed and disappointed.  So when I first started making chilli sauces that was something I wanted to go all out to avoid.  We’ve since won Guild of Fine Food Great Taste Awards and had unsolicited online reviews like this one from The Norfolk Chillihead: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBPapUBFHes so I hope that all goes to show we’re doing something right.

So why no extracts?
Look, don’t get me wrong – and I certainly don’t want to alienate myself from some of the other great UK hot sauce makers out there who I’m sure use it to great effect – sauces with extracts have their place.  It’s just for me that tends to be sat at the back of the cupboard for all eternity!  It might possibly get to see the light of day when the lads come round and then it surfaces for a few moments of “fun” whilst everyone tries to prove to each other how hardcore their heat tolerance is.  Personally, I can smell it a mile off and will have a good idea what it’s going to taste like.  And besides (and I know this might well be somewhat controversial) from a hot sauce manufacturer’s perspective, isn’t it kind of cheating?  I came across a sauce the other day made with Reapers, Nagas and extract.  For the love of God, why do you need to add the extract!?

Do you completely rule out ever using extracts?
No.  At the moment though I’m just having too much fun creating real flavours from natural ingredients.

So how are your sauces best used?
Well, each sauce has its own distinct flavour, character and heat level.  Each one is so different from the others and were carefully put together with a range of uses and recipes in mind, so much so that we’ve put a bunch of them on the website.  We even brought out our own Recipe book on the Amazon Kindle Store.

What’s the best part about your job?
That’s a tough one!  Coming from a corporate background where a daily dose of bullsh*t, b*llocks, backstabbing and posturing is de riguer, anything else is great!  So that’s everything then; I think I even enjoy the labelling!

And the worst?
Going back to the first question, it’d be the time wasters at the direct sales events.  Chilli festivals excepted – where the public are generally quite knowledgeable – it does sometimes seem like we’re a free sideshow or all-you-can-eat buffet.  However, you can usually pretty quickly tell people who are genuinely interested in your products and you learn to turn a blind eye to the others.  It goes with the territory and hell, often they can be hilarious!  However, touching on Sidekick Sauce’s James Bryson’s piece on Lick My Dip, for what it’s worth my opinion is that until the British public can distance themselves from the Richmondesque man test mindset born from Man v Food, I think we still have a way to go…

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Another Great Taste Award!

Extra Hot Habanero and Naga chilli Sauce

Hey, we did it again!
Hot on the heels of last year’s award for our fantastic Habanero and Lime sauce, Essence, this year we won a gold star for our hottest sauce yet, our Extra Hot Habanero & Naga sauce, Reason.
This year’s award is doubly pleasing in that it goes some way to prove what we’ve been saying about our sauces all along; they’re made for the taste, not just the heat!

Here’s what the judges had to say about it:
“This sauce is not for the faint hearted. The Judges who enjoy heat really enjoyed this sauce. It has a great smokiness from the Habanero chilli and a bit of acidity on the palate before the heat kicks in. We felt the sauce was very well balanced. Table 2: We agree with table 3 in terms of “not for the faint hearted” – it really packs a punch but the unique flavours of each chilli really do sing, the slight sourness and acidity work well and are well balanced.”

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Summer 2015 – a review

Flew by, didn’t it!
May:
3-4th.  We kicked off May with the Ely Food & Drink Festival with the lovely backdrop of Ely Cathedral and a chance to catch up with traders not seen since Christmas and wish them all a belated happy new year.  The first time we’d done this event and the first morning greeted us with a steady drizzle as we drove up the A14, looking clearer towards the horizon only to bucket down as we were setting up!  Nevertheless, it was a fantastic show, with the weather improving as the weekend went on and one we’ll definitely be doing next year.
16th  Hadleigh Show.  Our first “country” show of the year and what can I say?  As good as last year and can’t grumble with that.  Same spot next year please.
30th  Woodbridge What’s Tasty Market.  Hmm, maybe Woodbridge just isn’t ready for chilli sauces yet…  I feel sure if we’d been selling asparagus or strawberries it would have been a stonker, but we don’t and we weren’t.  No offence to the good people of Woodbridge but the demographic just wasn’t right for us.  Maybe it was the setting at the top of the hill or just the time of year.  Whatever, we’ll be back for their Christmas Market!

June:
6-7th.  Essex Maritime Festival, Southend Pier.  This was billed as the replacement event for the annual air show, which allegedly attracted 250k people last year, so hopes were high and well, it was an interesting one to say the least.
Fab weather and a potentially fab setting, right at the start of the pier.  However, as much as the sun shone down on us, the wind blew like you wouldn’t believe.  Now normally, setting us a gazebo is a pretty straightforward affair, but when it’s attempted in near storm force winds on a mile-long promontory sticking out into the Thames Estuary it can prove a little more challenging.  With 100lb of weights for each gazebo leg we were relatively OK but oh dear, as for the majority of other stallholders…  There were bits of cloth and canvass flying around, tables blowing over, gazebos ripping, produce smashing.  I felt sorry for the organisers, unlike a few others and as I understand it action was taken by some in the Small Claims Court for recompense following what proved for some to be a downright dreadful event!  We did OK, especially on the Sunday when we were able to move position into one of the gaps left by stallholders not coming back for the second day, so that we were more public-facing (the first day we’d been placed off the main public access route).   It’ll be interesting see whether they hold this event next year and if so what the location and layout of the “food court” will be.
For one unlucky stallholder it got even worse as I offered to help her push her cage full of stock up onto the exit ramp to pack away.  I was doing the lady a good turn; it was a heavy cage-full and the ramp was pretty steep.  There was no way I was going to be able to push it up the ramp so obviously pulling it up was the order of the day.  But then the cage opened up and smash…  Oh dear!
14th. Sudbury Food Festival.  Fantastic!  Again!
27-28th Colchester Food and Drink.  Good.  Better than last year.  Someone thought it would be funny if, for a £5 bet, they drank our hottest sauce straight from the ramekin dish we use for the samples.  Not exactly health and safety compliant and I did ask him not to and I did let him know what I thought of him after he’d done it.  Not the first time I’ve felt like a free side show and unfortunately it won’t be the last.

July:
1st-2nd.  Royal Norfolk Show.  I hadn’t planned on doing this one but got a call from a fellow stallholder who had to pull out, so nothing ventured, nothing gained and I took over his spot.  My word it was hot!!  So hot in fact that it seemed like a general lethargy ensued, with no-one seemingly bothered buying anything they couldn’t eat or drink on the spot.  Still, met some nice people and had a thoroughly enjoyable time.  Must have lost half a stone packing up, too!
4th.  Tendring 100 Show.  As it seems with most summers in this country, 2 or 3 days of blistering heat is followed, as standard practice, with thunderstorms and a general cooling down, and so it proved for the 100th anniversary of this event.  Last year it was sweltering in the food hall.  This year it was almost pleasant.  I think the new lay-out helped.  It certainly did with sales; our best showing at this event to date.
18-19th.  Essex Food Festival.  If you haven’t been to this event yet, please make an effort to come along.  A fab setting at Cressing Temple Barns, a fab line up of celebrity chefs and wonderful producers, and very reasonably priced.  Quite simply, our favourite show of the year.  I even saw Jodie Marsh there, although it did take a couple of seconds for me to recognise her, about the same amount of time it took for me to manage to raise my eyes to her face…
25-26th.  Holkham Country Show.  It rained.  The wind blew.  Weather warnings were in force.  We arrived on the Friday to be advised not to set the gazebo up until the following morning because of the forecast.  Now, if I’d have pre-bought tickets for this event I’d have looked at the weekend’s forecast and turned up late morning on the Saturday for a few hours in the only reasonable-looking weather window there was and I think that’s what everyone did.  Sunday was a complete washout after about 11am and we got absolutely soaked packing up.  We’d intended camping on the Friday but I managed to get a last minute B&B and then again on the Sunday with a view to having a little explore of the beautiful North Norfolk Coast on the Monday, but as it was we ended up wet and thoroughly miserable back at home on the Sunday evening.

August:
7-9th.  West Dean Chilli Fiesta.  Due to a mix-up on dates (my fault no doubt) Leanne couldn’t make this one, so whilst I was withering away in the face of the hot August sunshine for what I think were our last 3 good days of summer weather this year, she was living it up with a stay in London and afternoon tea at The Ritz with her friends.  Still, she didn’t get to meet Darth Naga, did she?  And what a thoroughly nice chap he is too.  Top beard, to boot!  We don’t normally do the whole chilli festival thing (a concern about over-proliferation of similar produce and the resultant competition I suppose) but boy are we glad we did this one!  The only downside to the whole thing was the lack of control over noisy neighbours in the “quiet” part of the campsite, resulting in my direct intervention at 1.30am on the Saturday night and giving up altogether on the Sunday night to cart my bedding half a mile to the van and sleep in the back!  If you’re reading this and as I said to you on the Monday morning, it was nice to meet you and I’m glad you had a great time but please have a little bit more consideration for your neighbours next year or at least until they start manufacturing sound-proof tents.
15-16th.  Ipswich Maritime Festival.  Another good one and a shame the powers that be have decided not to put it on next year in favour of something else yet to be decided.  If you know Ipswich you wouldn’t be surprised if it was a traffic light festival!
30-31st.  Bury Food Festival.  Whoever thinks it’s a good idea to put on an outside event on a bank holiday Monday in August can only, surely, be tempting the rain gods into putting on a hell of a show.  So for the second year running Monday saw the heavens open and at one point we had a river running through our gazebo.  I think it stopped raining for about and hour, total, on the Monday.  However, apart from that, it’s a free event for people to attend, right in the centre of town and if the weather gods were kind it could prove to be one of our best of the year!

September:
4-6th.  Chatsworth Country Fair.  A last minute call from the organisers to host another chilli-eating contest unfortunately had to be turned down due to lack of time to source the chillies but, with a little more notice, hopefully next year!  This is probably the biggest show of the year we do in terms of shear scale and numbers attending, although the Friday was dreadfully quiet this year.  Whilst Sunday was our best day yet at this event we never quite caught up.  Did thoroughly well however and it was a delight to see all the hot air balloons up in the sky first thing in the mornings, even if one did nearly land on our tent only to miss us by a few feet and crash-land next to us in the river!
12-1th.  Barleylands, Essex Country Show.  Bit of a disappointment compared to last year but still well worth doing, although from what I can gather from speaking to other stallholders about the success (or not) of their weekend, there may be a few less of us next year…   Still, much to Leanne’s chagrin, I got to listen to Slayer’s new CD all the way there and back.
26-27th.  Aldeburgh Food Festival.  Our final show until November and off the back of last year’s a bit disappointing.  Fantastic setting at Snape Maltings but just not the numbers there were last year, one theory being the rugby union world cup.  They probably have a point.  We’ll be back next year.

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November to December 2014, part 2 of 2.

Ipswich Christmas Market Friday 21-Sunday 23 November.
New lights!! I bought new lights!! We had to beg and borrow some last year (after 6 hours I was still waiting for the festoon lights I’d bought to “warm up”!) so after a lot of research (with telephone conversations usually taking the form of, me: “Are you sure I can’t get it wrong?  I’m rubbish with stuff like this.”  LED salesman: “YOU CAN’T GET IT WRONG!!)  I bought an LED plug-in-and-play set up this year along with two mini flood lights that clamp to the gazebo frame.  Just had to buy some clamps that’s all and luckily I found myself setting up next to a hardware stall.  Happy days.  Planning ahead?  Waste of time!
Last year this market went from Thursday through to Sunday so we thought we’d get ahead of the game and do the Thursday as well on Ipswich Borough Council Market.  Beautiful day it was Thursday, sun was shining, not too cold.  The day started exceptionally well, which for some reason always seems to transpire to being a bad thing.  Today was no exception…  After last year’s market however, hopes were high for the rest of the weekend.  We were in the same position and confidence was good.  However, whilst last year there were a lot of continental stalls giving an eclectic and Christmassy feel to things, this year none of them had turned up and the vibrant mix of stalls was replaced with a homogenous line of council-owned gazebos and a couple of rides for the kids tagged on to the end of the market like an afterthought.  It wasn’t visually appealing and it didn’t seem to catch the public’s imagination.   For the second Sunday in a row the heavens opened and packing up on the Sunday evening wasn’t an experience I savoured.  Not as good as last year and our target looked further away than ever.

Bury Christmas Market, 27-30 November.
We’d heard A LOT of good things about this and for the cost of the pitch it HAD to be good!  We’d been told it would be the best event we’d ever done.  Based on our experience of the Essex Food and Drink festival back in July where we literally didn’t stop for 5 hours from the opening bell we felt a bit nervous about it really.  Had we got enough stock?  Would it live up to expectations?  It felt a bit like our first ever show, like a child going to a new school.
Set-up was a bit chaotic, thanks largely to a one-way system being blocked by not one but two broken down vans and another that was trying to squeeze under an archway that was way too low!  Ho ho ho!
We needn’t have worried.  Yes, it did get very busy at times but nothing we couldn’t manage between us and the trading days being 10 hours long meant that traffic was steady but never manic.  Part of the deal for this event was that we had to dress in Victorian/Dickensian costumes.  I enjoyed wearing my Jack the Ripper Costume (complete with 1918 hallmarked silver-headed cane fresh from Ebay) although bearing in mind they never caught him, how they knew what Jack the Ripper wore is beyond me!  Leanne hated wearing her costume so subsequently, for much of the time, didn’t.  It was a pleasure working opposite Allard’s Farm Butchery – lovely people and entertaining with it.  (How many packs for £12 again?) Late nights and early starts to ensure a parking spot meant that beer was out of the question for the weekend (most unwelcome!) but we had a ball and I’m already looking forward to next year.

Stock-take on Monday morning broke the unwelcome(?) news that I needed to get back into the kitchen but thankfully not before the next two events at least!  Thankfully the internet orders were more spaced out this year so that we didn’t need to spend too much time on any one day bubble-wrapping, cardboard box making and posting.

Ipswich Council Christmas Show, lunchtime, Wed 3 Dec, Endeavour House, Ipswich
Only 2 hours this one, but with setting up and take down it probably takes most of the day.  Last year, hour hourly take for this one was right up there but I guess with the same employees buying for the same people as last year, they can’t all buy chilli sauce gift sets again.  The people selling bags and scarves however couldn’t go wrong; everybody could do with a new bag, right?  We did OK though.

Ladies’ Night, Thurs 4 Dec, 6.30 to 10, Ipswich College
By all accounts this was a roaring success last year and we were very pleased to be invited along for our first time.  Extensive, targeted and clever advertising and a ladies night too; I was looking forward to this one!  Once I managed to get across town (40 minutes for a mile’s drive, I ask you!) set-up was dead easy although the look and smell of the place reminded me too much of being back at school.  A trickle of people came through the doors and then the rush…just didn’t happen.  Apparently prices on the door had increased from £3 last year to £7 this year, which is something we’ve learned always to ask about but of course didn’t on this occasion.  I guess money’s tight at the moment (especially at this time of year) and people just don’t see the increase as value for money.  I can’t blame them.  There was a food show we did last summer, beautiful surroundings, lovely weather, cleverly considered lay out, well advertised, £7.50 for adults, £3.50 for children, £4 a pint, £3 a Coke for the kids, burgers at a fiver; you’ve done over £50 before you even think about buying any produce.  No wonder people come up and say “I love these events!  Beer, a band, and all this free food!!”

Jimmy’s Farm Christmas Fayre, 6-7 December, Jimmy’s Farm/Woodbridge Christmas Market 7 December
One of our better ones last year and so it proved again this year.  In fact we did even better than last year.  Free entry for the public you see!  With our stall facing south and not a cloud in the sky Saturday we should have brought our sunglasses.  Not something you think about in December is it?  Well, I don’t.  Damn though, it gets windy up on that hill! One of our flags blew down at one point.  Luckily no eyes were taken out.  And as for the person who thought camping out was a good idea this time of the year…  You could barely see the tent for the frost covering it.
Woodbridge, sadly, wasn’t such a great success but the weather was pretty rotten on the Sunday when the market was on, which didn’t help.  Can’t complain about it though.

Ipswich Borough Council Market, last two weekends before Christmas
I’ll not lie, Ipswich has it’s detractors, but our home town has always been pretty good to us and my goodness is the pitch rent reasonable!  Taking that into account, four average days elsewhere turn into four very good ones here, helping us to hit our target for the festive period and retire for the year knackered but happy.

I find it hard to just switch off though.  When I used to “work” for a living if I took a week off I’d just about stop thinking about work by the end of the Tuesday and start thinking about it again on the Thursday.  Leanne and I had our “Works Christmas Meal” down at Ipswich Waterfront (I even paid!) put our plans for 2015 in place and I eventually got round to wrapping the presents on Christmas eve.  Typical bloke.

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Our Habanero and Lime sauce is now OFFICIALLY award-winning!

Chilli Sauce great taste award

Chilli Sauce great taste awardWe’ve just had some brilliant news – our ‘Essence’ (Habanero and Lime) chilli sauce has won an award! It’s not just any old award either, we’re extremely honoured to have won a GREAT TASTE award by the Guild of Fine Food! You’ll recognise the Great Taste logo, it is seen on foods that have been deemed to be exceptional within their category. Considering we only started making our chilli sauces last year we’re understandably excited to have reached this level of recognition so swiftly.

Over 400 judges tried our Essence Sauce alongside many of our peers and awarded us a star! This is a national award that takes several months to judge and producers enter around 10,000 products, only a handful are awarded stars.

We promise to keep our feet on the ground though; we’re not the sort of people to let success go to our heads. In fact I’ve got to get back to the kitchen and crack on with the next batch of sauces!

Find out why the judges loved our chilli sauce…