I love chilli. “Obsessed" is probably the right description for the relationship I have with the spicy fruit. Bird’s eye, habanero, chicken flap. I can’t get my fill of the Scoville scale. On a ski trip to Vail, Colorado (now I’m really name dropping), we were invited by some Scots to their home for Christmas dinner, and without thinking, I asked for Tobasco sauce to accompany the steak and kidneys. The altitude had clearly dulled my taste buds and my social sensitivities. I wasn’t invited again nor did I get a Kris Kringle. But at least I had a spicy Christmas(;
Anyway, as a company, we had toyed with the idea of adding an organic/all-natural Thai chilli sauce to our portfolio. Sriracha was all the craze but it was pumped with yucky ingredients and preservatives. And Thai sweet chilli sauce is just sugar disguised in a spicier outfit. We wanted to disrupt the chili/hot sauce market with something revolutionary! Alas, for over a year we toiled, but nothing that came out of the lab screamed “yes, this is the Sir Kensington's of chilli sauces” . (See here for who Sir Kensington's refers to.)
And then, as with many of our products, inspiration came, as it often does, in the most modest of settings.
A 5 minute drive from our Thailand factory, obscured by a Tesco convenient store, at the end of a muddy path, is a tin-roofed food centre. My staff, Diane (Mekhala's Head Flavour Maker) and I like to go there for lunch when we are in town. The options are limited, but local, delicious and cheap. $2 for a bowl of noodles with hot broth, meatballs and vegetables; $1 for a papaya salad that will knock your socks off. On one of her trips, Diane ventured to the last stall in the row of 6, which offered Issan favourites. Issan is an area in Northeastern Thailand, famed for its Laotian-inspired cuisine that favours extreme heat and punchy sourness. She selected the grilled meat platter. It arrived with a plate of raw, fresh vegetables (beans, cabbage, carrot) and a small bowl of dipping sauce.
As instructed by JJ, our Thai Sales Manager, Diane wrapped meat in cabbage leaf and doused it with sauce. It blew her head off.
When she finally recovered enough to wipe her tears and speak, Diane asked what this sauce was called. Nham Jin Jeaw, translated into GREAT BALLS OF FIRE! We had found the Holy Grail of chilli sauces.