Island Artisans – Hot Sauce!

DSC_5781 Today on Island Artisans the blistering truth came out:  Vancouver Island artisans make excellent hot sauces!

Our palates are wonderful things.  They can taste the sweet, plummy undertones of a red wine, the saltiness of an olive, the sour in a dill pickle, and of course, the heat of a hot pepper.  How much we like that heat, or even stand the heat, is very much a matter of personal taste.  The idea of capturing the heat of a pepper in a hot sauce condiment has been around for a long time, but people keep on inventing new versions of it for us to try, including some discovered recently on Vancouver Island.

DSC_5790 Dad’s Westcoast Wildfire Awesome Sauce, made in Lake Cowichan.  The name is a mouthful, let’s take it apart.  The Dad is Jon Newton , father to teenager Emma.  Jon wanted West Coast in the name.  The Wildfire comes from the heat of course, but also from a wildfire the family witnessed when driving back to Lake Cowichan from Port Renfrew when they were discussing the name of the sauce.  And the ‘awesome sauce’ part?  Emma.  Apparently that’s what some people (read teenagers) say when something is really great.  Put it all together and you get  Dad’s Westcoast Wildfire Awesome Sauce.

Although Jon is the real hot sauce fan it’s his wife Liz who developed the formula and does all the cooking of the sauce.  Visiting the kitchen of their Lake Cowichan home reveals the hard work and care put into the making of the sauce. The sauce is made in small batches, jarred and labeled completely by hand. 

Jon says they got into making the sauce when the economy went into its recent downspin:
“I’ve always loved hot sauce, and when we were thinking about another way to make money it seemed like a natural; people love to eat, they love good food, a gourmet hot sauce that is local and different should work.”

DSC_5779 Liz Newton didn’t really like hot sauce, so it’s a little ironic to watch her carefully stirring the pot and ladling sauce into the jars.  “It’s the fresh peppers, ginger and garlic that make the difference in our sauce, I think.  We don’t use any preservatives and there are 18 different herbs and spices in the mix.  I grind many of the spices myself, such as the black peppercorns, just before they go into the sauce so you get the full pungency.  And I never liked hot sauces because they were always too vinegary and salty, so I decided to use balsamic vinegar instead of ordinary white table vinegar to smooth it out.”

DSC_5778 Jon and Liz are very committed to keeping this a local Island enterprise, from the source of the peppers(a hothouse in Chemainus) to the people they hope to be able to eventually hire as the business grows.  And they do need it to grow so they can make a living at it, they aren’t right now.  When purchasing the hot sauce at one of their supermarket outlets, the cashier had to check the price on it and she seemed to think it was a little pricy at $7.99 for 250 millilitres.  But Jon and Liz say price has not entered into the equation when it comes to customer satisfaction. Jon: “The response since we started selling this nine months ago has been singularly favourable.  I think we’ve maybe had three people who said they didn’t like it for some reason or another.”  Liz: “We sold 1200 jars over the summer and people keep coming back for more.  And it’s not really expensive compared to other gourmet hot sauces I’ve seen online or in the States, which can be up to $12 a bottle, and it’s usually a smaller bottle than ours.  I think that cashier must not eat very much hot sauce!”

If you try the sauce and find it a little too hot for your taste, you’ll be pleased to know Jon and Liz will soon release their Westcoast Rain Forest version of Awesome Sauce, which will be milder version of the original, and they also sell a barbecue rub you can try on all sorts of foods for grilling as well.  For retail locations click here.

I’m aware of a couple of other lines of hot sauces that are made here in BC but I’d love to hear about more, so feel free to tell me about your favourites in the comments section below.

Awassi Ebesse Zozo Hot Sauce was developed by Edmond Segbeaya, an immigrant from West Africa who is now based in Nelson.

Denzel’s Hot Sauce is based in the Okanagan…they grow great hot peppers there!  I haven’t tasted any of these sauces, but I have tried Denzel’s BBQ Sauce collaboration with my barbecue guru, Ron Shewchuk, and if the hot sauces are of the same quality as the barbecue sauce, then you’re in for a sizzlin’ experience!

If you have any favourite hot sauces please tell me about them!

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