Last week The Outstanding NZ Food Producer Awards medal winners were announced with four Nelson businesses being awarded medals. Leading the way was Pete’s Natural with their Currant Crush winning a gold medal and their Lime-O-Nade a silver medal, while Tin’s Thai Chilli, Wildwood and NZ Creameries all picked up silver medals.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to find out more about some of these winners and share their stories with you; first up is Tin’s Thai Chilli sauce, a range of sauces that are unapologetically HOT but packed with flavour. Their Fresh Thai Chilli sauce was awarded a silver medal.
Co-owner of Tin’s Thai Chilli, Lily Tin, began making chilli sauce because her husband, Zaw, missed the seriously hot chilli he used to eat with his family back in Thailand. “My husband unfortunately had to flee from his country, which meant leaving a lot of his culture behind.”
Zaw’s heritage is Burmese, but he was born and raised in Thailand where he lived in the Thai society before having to move to a refugee camp for a year and has always thought of himself as Thai. He migrated to New Zealand with his father and two sisters when he was seven years old.
When they arrived in New Zealand the family spent six weeks in a settlement facility in Auckland where they started to learn English and discover just how different New Zealand is compared to living in a refugee camp in Thailand.
After six weeks the family chose Nelson as the place they would like to live and settled here in 2007
“It was a challenging time, arriving here with basically no English and having to adjust to a new way of living as well as foods that were totally foreign to us” he says.
Zaw is now an apprentice mechanic at British 4WD Specialist and he married a Nelson woman two years ago. Lily has a Bachelor Degree in Primary Teaching and has settled in to work as an early childhood teacher.
The couple met in Nelson and even though Zaw found a new place to call home in Nelson he missed many of the things he enjoyed with his family in Thailand, Lily says “this encouraged me to help remind him of his culture the best I could, and I know food is hugely important within the Asian culture.”
“Zaw told me he couldn’t find decent hot sauce, the small bottles of Mexican hot sauce are generally about heat, Thai chilli sauces aren’t tomato based and flavour is more important than just heat.
He says “We couldn’t find anything that was close to the authentic sauces my mother used to make at home in Thailand, most of the stuff you buy here is too sweet and doesn’t tend to have layers of flavour. There’s nothing like a traditional, homemade fresh Thai chilli sauce.”
There are many styles for Thai chilli sauce but Fresh Thai Chilli sauces were traditionally used for seafood dishes, it’s so versatile it is now used on anything. “If you go to a Thai home they make their own sauce and put a big bowl on the table.”
Lily learnt the techniques of making chilli sauce through the support of Zaw and his family. “I have learned a lot from our family” says Lily. “Zaw told me he knew the tastes and flavours but didn’t know the recipe, so we called his older sister, Tay, who used to cook with Zaw’s mother back in Thailand and asked her what the sauce was their mum used to make.
“Each night they would teach me about the different flavours, textures, and techniques to make an authentic South East Asian Chilli Sauce. When we started making it we had to go by taste because every family has their own recipe and we wanted to replicate the flavours of the sauces made by Zaw’s family.”
“My sister Tay had a lot to do with helping us create our Fresh Thai Chilli sauce. We wouldn’t have been able to create it without her help” says Zaw. “I also have a cousin in Burma I stay in touch with, he’s a big foodie and he has helped a lot too. He has a very popular food blog in Burma (Food and Travel by SBG)
Lily says “we have a recipe and measurements but tasting each batch to make sure the flavour profile is right is the most important thing. Depending on the time of the year flavours change in the fresh ingredients we use, chillis can be milder at certain times and coriander can be very difficult to get and it’s such an important part of this fresh chilli sauce.”
The couple told me they wanted to make an authentic taste of South East Asia and don’t want to make it sweeter or less hot because people think they can’t handle it, “we’re aiming for a market that loves flavoursome heat” Zaw told me.
“When we started we want to make the sauce for a group who have moved here from other countries, especially refugees who have made Nelson home, but are missing the hot flavoursome foods of their homeland. They love the fact someone is prepared to make a product that shows off where they come from and being firm about it being authentic.
“Helping other people reconnect to their cultures, showing people that we can do this, we can express our cultures, is an important part of creating this sauce business. Lots of people are too scared to express the realness of our cultures,” says Zaw, “we’re showing them it can, and is, being accepted in their new home country.”
Lily and Zaw started making for their Fresh Thai Chilli sauce for family and friends, “the we decided to put a bottle on Facebook Marketplace says Lily. “We had heaps of responses, Zaw thought it wouldn’t sell but we had a fantastic response, it got out of control so we decided to set it up as a proper business. We have a food certified kitchen at home and invested in some equipment to make the process easier. For a while my hands were on fire from chopping chilli’s” she says with a grin.
“My parents Nina James (Bayleys) and dad, David James (Atelier art gallery) have given us a huge amount of guidance to make sure we have set the business up properly.”
As to the sauce, “We only use fresh ingredients – fresh birds eye chillis, coriander, fish sauce, ginger, and garlic. It’s southeast Asian hot, we can’t really make it any hotter without losing flavour, the idea is heat with flavour and it’s always about balance – sweet, sour, salty and spice.”
Tin’s Thai Chilli is truly an artisan business making an outstanding authentic product. The couple only started selling the sauce a year ago so being awarded a Silver medal at The Outstanding NZ Food Producer Awards is an outstanding achievement in itself. You can buy their sauces online at www.tinsthaichilli.co.nz.