Benoit St Jacques and Diane Gilbert are a creative husband and wife team.
He retired last year as chef at Rosewood Market, and she is an artist who also teaches pottery at Southern Pottery Studio.
Together, they’ve teamed up on a new venture, the Meet your Cremator line of organic hot sauces.
The couple purchased about 10 acres near Cedar Creek a few years ago to fulfill Gilbert’s dream of owning some land, and it became a way St Jacques to move on professionally and try something different.
“It helped a lot that the land was just a few miles away from the golf course,” Gilbert joked.
The couple has cleared just over an acre to plant a variety of hot peppers that St Jacques uses for the Cremator sauces. From the “milder” jalapeno, cayenne and habanero, to the scorching ghost pepper, scorpion and reaper, St Jacques blends the peppers with a range of ingredients – the Spicy Blueberry Vodka Glaze, a mild “dessert sauce,” uses the season’s freshest berries with Thai, cayenne and a curry mix of red peppers.
DD’s Original, the hottest sauce in the Meet Your Cremator line and a winner in the 10th Annual Hot Pepper Awards, contains carrots and cantaloupe in addition to orange ghost and scorpion peppers.
Why hot sauce?
Gilbert said it started “because I like to grow things. And I started to do a little mixture that I thought was very good, then (Benoit) took it and rearranged it – like a the chef that he is – and it was very, very good, so I conceded that part to him.”
St. Jacques added, “It was just for fun at first. We made one batch and then friends said ‘hey, I want some of that.’ ”
One sauce led to another.
“We were growing different types of peppers and decided to make a different color of sauce,” he said. “Then a different flavor.”
Now, at seven flavors, the Meet Your Cremator line “is a commitment,” said Gilbert. The couple has taken classes in bottling, canning, production and FDA approval for distribution.
Gilbert has about 800 pepper plants in the ground and can rattle off some of the varieties, each with its own unique flavors. Just within the ghost pepper family there are the red, yellow, white, chocolate, and peach.
“I like to have a variety of colors so that it helps me when it’s time to put the recipes together to have natural, vibrant colors when we present the product,” St Jacques said. “It looks very nice. We have colors from a purple to a very bright yellow. I play around with the natural colors of the peppers with the fruit that pairs well and keeps the integrity of the colors and the flavors.”
For instance, the red sauces may include pomegranate and cherries along with the red peppers like cayenne, red habanero and Thai; green sauces will have jalapeno, kiwi, lime, cilantro and parsley for an intense green color; yellow sauce might contain peach habanero, yellow scorpion and yellow ghost peppers with peaches and mangoes.
So who samples the peppers to determine heat?
Gilbert tastes the peppers from the garden which she said can vary in taste and heat from year to year depending on rainfall and weather. They both sample the hot sauces.
St Jacques said while he tries to keep each hot sauce flavor stable and consistent from batch to batch, “at the same time, I think it’s part of the charm that there’s a little variable and you say, you know, that’s nature.”
Is there such a thing as too hot?
“As far as the customer is concerned, you can keep growing the hottest peppers that exist and there’s somebody waiting,” said St Jacques. He holds up a chocolate ghost pepper, one that so hot he has to wear gloves to work with them.
As a former chef, St Jacques said he crafts each sauce to create different personalities that can be paired with different foods and that “it’s not just the heat is getting more intense (in each sauce), but also the flavors are very different.”
What sets these sauces apart is that while yes, they are hot, St Jacques tries to use ingredients that will counteract the effects of the heat on your digestive track.
He uses apple cider vinegar rather than white vinegar, because it is lower in acidity and has a milder flavor. By adding fresh fruits, herbs and vegetables in the recipes, the sauces have “more of a food quality,” said St Jacques, “so when it hits your stomach, there’s a little bit more digestive enzymes so it’s not so intense.”
People can sample the sauces – which are organic and vegan – at City Roots Farmers Market on Thursdays and Soda City Market on Saturday.