PART III: DATE WITH DESTINY
SATURATION OF THE SENSES
During my first trip to Mexico I barely stayed more than a couple of nights in one place; I had 3 short weeks to see, taste and experience as much as possible.
I was in Yucatán, Campeche, San Cristóbal, Palenque, Oaxaca, Puerto Escondido, Mexico City, Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Tulum, and the arse-end of nowhere sometimes.
Skint, I did it all on a shoestring, moving around on battered old local buses and overnight coaches, sleeping in hostels, eating at markets, getting lashed in seedy cantinas, always making friends with the locals.
BRANDED BY THE SPICE
I soaked up everything this amazing country had to offer while relentlessly sampling as many different sauces as possible. From the freshly made to the mass produced, endless slugs of hot sauce were dripped and licked off the back of my hand. A red burn marked itself onto my skin - I was branded by the spice and l loved it!
PUNCH & PERSONALITY
By now I had a better idea of the sauce I wanted to create. I'd found 2 or 3 that had the qualities I was after but none of them had it all - and this was precisely the sauce I wanted to create.
1. Must pack punch
2. Must have flavour and personality
3. Must be versatile enough to slap on anything
Every region of Mexico has its own chilli and each will swear that heirs the best. But in reality, everyone knows the pepper packs most punch and personality: the famed habanero. Yucatán is home of the habanero so this where I began to home in my search; I needed someone to help me make the sauce I had in mind.
NUN'S THE ONE
I met a few sauce manufacturers in the region but kept hearing about an old nun who made hot sauce with peasant farmers somewhere in the middle of nowhere. This was one I definitely had to follow up.
I finally tracked her down and the Nun welcomed me with open arms. She told me all about her project helping the locals - Mayan Mexicans with an ancient farming tradition - who'd been lured away by steady (but poorly-paid) jobs at big ranches, and how the young generations had lost touch with their heritage, got mixed up in drugs, booze and crime.
Most still owned ancestral smallholdings but neglect meant they'd largely become overgrown by weeds and jungle. The Nun's mission was to help these youngsters get back to their roots (so to speak) and work their land again, just like their grandparents and countless generations before them.
RIGHTEOUS FROM THE ROOTS UP
She drew on her network of contacts in the church to raise money to help train these youngsters, teaching them how to grow the same crops - habanero chillies, garlic and tomatoes - as their forebears did, using the same ancient practises of seasonal planting, minimal machinery and zero pesticides.
She set up a small factory nearby which made traditional Mayan hot sauces using produce bought direct from the farmers she helped. The profits from the sauces were then reinvested back into the project to help more people start farming their own land, thus reclaiming their heritage, independence and self-respect.
The Nun was so passionate about her cause yet so humble, it was hard not to be inspired by what she was doing. I hadn’t come to Mexico with the idea of creating a fair-trade style hot sauce but as soon as I’d met the Nun and saw what she was doing, my instinct told me:
This is the One.