Brother and sister team Christian Castillo-Martinez and Allison Ward hail from Peru but now live in Hertfordshire. They missed the tastes of their childhood so much, they decided to do something about it – and so Rico Picante sauces were born! Here’s a true Peruvian success story, which just goes to show that sometimes the best way forward can start with a look to the past.
ADAM: Hi Christian, lovely to meet you! We’re big fans of Rico Picante sauces, and so are our customers. How did it all start?
CHRISTIAN: Lovely to meet you too. The story starts back in 2009, when we were unable to find the fragrant and fruity chilli sauce flavours that we grew up with in Peru. We decided to bring our own range of authentic premium sauces to the market, and we debuted our saucy skills at a small Latin food festival in London that year.
We made our first batch in my sister’s kitchen in Hitchin. It was a three day festival and we sold out on the first day, all 300 bottles! Naturally we went back home and cooked all night! After that we tested our products over the next few years in the marketplace, in delicatessens, at farmers markets and food festivals in an around London and the South. We were overwhelmed by the positive response it received everywhere. People really understood that our sauces are not just heat, they are full of flavour and can make your food absolutely delicious.
A: You guys are really passionate about your ingredients. I understand that your chillies are even home grown?
C: My sister started growing chillies in our green house, and we still do it in small quantities; but now we sell more sauces we also import chillies comes from the north, south, Andes and Amazon areas of Peru.
The four chillies we use (amarillo, limo, rocoto and panca) are the most popular chillies in Peru and used in all Peruvian restaurants worldwide. There is nothing to compare those chilli peppers with, they really do have an amazing taste.
We also use a herb for our Andes sauce called huacatay, commonly known as Peruvian Black Mint. It’s a great ingredient to add flavour to your dishes. This makes our Andes sauce, made with huacatay and aji amarillo chilli, one of the most popular in the UK.
A: What’s been the highest point in the Rico Picante journey so far?
C: It is really difficult to mention one point in time. I think we are enjoying the whole journey. That said, we love our food shows such as Taste of London where we have the chance to interact with and get feedback from our customers.
A big turning point in our journey was starting to sell to the gourmet department stores William Sonoma in the USA and Canada in 2010. It was a big task at the time but it helped us to toughen up! It was a big jump to go from cooking at home to renting premises and getting all certifications we needed. Today we are BRC Certified which is the highest-recognised global safety standard.
A: We sell three of your sauces at Viva Peru, Amazonia, Oops and Andes. Which is your favourite?
C: Another hard question! It’s like having five kids and you ask me which one is my favourite [laughing].
Amazonia was the first sauce we made. It comes from a forty-year-old recipe made by my parents. They used to make chilli sauce in their company many years ago and we brought it back to life decades after in the UK. On the other hand, Andes sauce uses that special Peruvian Black Mint, which gives a fresh flavour. Oops sauce is an explosion of heat, which is great for spice lovers, but it doesn’t kill the flavours of the food.
A: Apart from your own yummy sauces of course, what are your favourite Peruvian dishes?
C: Aji de Gallina is the dish I always have on my birthday! It’s shredded chicken in an aji amarillo sauce, served with rice. I also like Carapulcra which made from dried potatoes (papa seca) with pork. Of course, you can prepare these dishes using our sauces too! Just visit our website if you’d like some of our recipes.