Giving Chillies the Heat
Think of Jersey and the mind conjures up an image of a foodies’ paradise; from the humble potato to seas teeming with the tastiest of fish and from fields of fresh fruit and vegetables to the world’s very best dairy products.
It may come as something of a surprise, though, to learn that a very special chilli sauce can be added to the island’s rich and varied home produced gastronomic mix.
The product, which with the help of an army of loyal fans on social media is already tantalising taste buds across the globe, is the result of one man’s dream to share a delicacy from his home island with the rest of the world. Using a recipe created by his late father and followed faithfully to this day, Kerwin Mohun is producing Pimata Sauce, made from fresh chillies which are, in his words, “inspected, washed and processed with love and care”.
Kerwin was born in Mauritius and came to live in Jersey a few years ago. His story, along with that of his business enterprise, is far from ordinary. Coming from a poor background – home for him and his family was little more than a poorly constructed wooden shack – Kerwin quickly realised that education was his only ticket out of poverty.
With much help from teachers, schools and sometimes even total strangers he completed his secondary schooling and went on to qualify as an accountant. He worked for a top audit firm in Mauritius and then, following a brief spell in banking, he headed for Jersey. Lurking at the back of his mind, however, was always that recipe devised by his father – who had worked as a chef in Mauritius – and a determination to turn a business idea into reality.
“Sometimes you make something for your own consumption and you think ‘let’s try this out and see if it works for others’,” Kerwin said. Working alongside his wife, Babita, it took nearly three years of hard effort, sleepless nights, stress and money worries before it proved possible to create a product from the recipe which they felt was truly ready to take its place on shop shelves. Now, the couple are at last beginning to witness the benefits and rewards of their efforts.
“The name Pimata comes from the local Mauritian Creole language and is actually a combination of two words; ‘pima’, which means chilli, and ‘ta’ which, among other meanings, is an expression of awe,’ Kerwin explained. “Chilli in any form is a staple of the common Mauritian diet and Pimata is just an honest chilli sauce which marries well with any type of food or cuisine. There is no limit to how Pimata may be used or what you may use it with.
“It brings out the flavour and adds depth to your food. It can turn any dish into an exotic one, transforming it and making it something different and amazing; this is the effect of Pimata.”
Before the manufacturing process could begin, however, a number of obstacles had to be overcome. “I had to learn the trade,” said Kerwin. “I knew what I needed, but I had to find the equipment.”
First of all, the new venture needed a name. That proved to be the easy part. “I called the company Twin Islands Limited,” Kerwin said, “as a tribute to the two islands which made it all possible; Jersey and Mauritius. Pimata is inspired by Mauritius and made in Jersey.”
Next, Kerwin had to locate a kettle. But this was no ordinary piece of kitchen equipment. This was a 100-litre cooking kettle. It was also an extremely pricey piece of kit. Fortunately, however, a website took him to a Chinese firm able to supply one at a greatly reduced cost. The next problem was oil.
“You need a particular type of heat exchange oil for the cooking kettle,” said Kerwin. “Electricity heats the oil and the oil heats the pan. The machine arrived in Jersey but I could not get the right oil.”
After much fruitless searching, Kerwin walked into the offices of Rubis where he had the good fortune to find a team that was not one to be deterred by a challenge. The news was good. They discovered that a quantity of the oil needed by Kerwin was sitting in the company’s Guernsey depot.
Finally, everything was in place and production could get under way. The Scotch bonnet – so called because its shape resembles a Scotsman’s hat, or Tam O’Shanter – is the chilli of choice because it is especially hot and has a rich fruity flavour. It can be sourced within the island when in season.
“One cooking session takes about three hours from preparation to bottling,” Kerwin said. “Each session will produce 700 jars of sauce. Our total capacity is 1,500 jars a day. The oil evaporates during the cooking process but it goes down slowly.”
And, with Pimata Sauce already making its presence felt in 22 countries from New Zealand to Canada, capacity could well double if another machine is installed.
“Everything is in place in our St John kitchen to take another cooking kettle when the time is right,” Kerwin confirmed. “Our business plan was always aimed at looking well into the future.” It is a future that includes a further two products; Curry Spice and Curry Base, dry and wet ingredients required to make an authentic Mauritian curry.
“I think we will soon be needing even more oil,” predicted Kerwin.
With Rubis able to offer a ready supply, Kerwin can be sure that his needs can be met in order to keep the production going as his business continues to grow.