Some like it hot. Some like it mild. Some don’t like it at all. John Boland of the Byron Bay Chilli Co. makes the good stuff the U.S.A. way. Whatever your feelings on the spicy sauce, you can almost feel the hot Mexican breeze when you catch a whiff of his concoctions. This is award-winning chilli and you don’t have to cross the Atlantic to get it.
I mostly think of myself as a Grandpa these days, and a child of the sixties. Like the old song, I will actually soon be 64. I was a plumber and ranch manager for many years in California before moving to the land of my mother, Down Under. Lynne was the ranch cook, and her meals and wedding cakes were renowned far and wide. I learned a lot about life that way. Many Universal Truths are unavoidable when you work with pipes and food. Feeding people and animals is near the top of the list I reckon. If done with good intention it is one of the most loving, sociable things in the world.
We grew up so close to the Mexican border that we could smell the tortillas cooking when there was a stiff wind from the South. We ate lots of Roasted Tea, Yorkshire Pudding and Shepherd Pie, but realised at an early age how much more interesting salsa was on them than tomato sauce.
We came here in ’92, and knew that to survive, we would need to start our own business. There weren’t many jobs around then in these parts and I was keen to try something new. With the help of our farmer friend, Frank Peate, we set up a small chilli patch of about 500 plants and watched them jump out of the ground. Like Miami, Havana, and Central Mexico, the birthplace of chillies, Byron Bay is about the same distance from the equator in the opposite direction.
We thought that we would become chilli farmers, seeing that there weren’t so many varieties of fresh chillies on offer at the time. So we took a truckload of fresh jalapeño chillies to the Brisbane markets in early Summer, 1992 and only sold two boxes. The food scene was not quite ready for that, so we pickled the entire crop in 200 litre drums full of vinegar and water. At the same time, we set up a tiny taco trailer and started selling tacos and nachos at the Byron Markets. In addition to supplying Mexican Mick’s with pickled jalapeños, we used them to make the fresh salsa we used to season our tacos, nachos and burritos. To my knowledge, we were the first food company to call ourselves Byron Bay anything.
What makes our sauces different is that we use not only mashed chillies, seeds and all, but we use a lot of other interesting ingredients like coriander, coconut, mango, lime, curries, cumin, ginger, and we use them liberally. The flavours are different too, not just copies of traditional recipes and tastes, but new combinations that are truly unique. The way I look at it is that we don’t start out with a profit motive, but a flavour motive. We think first about creating a special taste that will be a pleasure for all the tastebuds out there who try it. That is our intention.
Our Fiery Coconut Chilli Sauce with Curry and Ginger has been our most popular. In 2007 it was the Grand Prize Scovie Winner (sort of like the Holy Grail of chilli awards) in a contest run by the Pope of Peppers, Dave Dewitt, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This is the sauce that Hog’s Breath Restaurants use on the Steaks and Burgers. Gourmet burger shops are also noticing how good it is mixed with mayonnaise as a burger and chip sauce. Excellent to BBQ with, or in stir fries, with pizzas, salads and pies.
We are not about excessively hot chilli, but hot and tasty chilli. One time though a young friend who came to Australia from El Salvador wanted to show us how much heat he could tolerate. We had a jar of straight habanero mash in the fridge that was labelled as our habanero sauce, which is only about 20% habanero chilli normally. He took a big spoonful, and before we could warn him, had it all in one go. The look on his young face quickly went from swaggering to worried to gasping.
At our shop in Byron Bay, which we call OzyMex (which means Australian/ Mexican fusion food) we serve tacos, nachos, burritos, quesadillas, and enchiladas. The flavours are not necessarily classical Mexican, which to me can be very yummy, but greasy. We use lots of salad, mixed with beans which we cook from scratch, chicken and beef that we slow cook, spiced with our sauces. The food is very filling and uniquely delicious, but doesn’t leave you feeling starched or greased out afterwards like some other well-known franchise restaurants.
Scarab for souvenirs.
Doesn’t get any better than seeing my grandchildren, and playing on the beach wherever they are.
Nothing can come close to standing near, in or around the lighthouse. It’s best to see it at different times of the day and night. Being a light sculpture/machine, it doesn’t truly come to life until after dark. It is possible to walk up there at any time, you just can’t drive your car all the way up and park. You have to walk a couple of hundred metres. But it is special and memorable.
The Beach Hotel has the best public toilets.
Best Road Trip
Waking up on the side of the road in Oklahoma, in the dark and seeing fireflies for the first time.
Dream Road Trip
Hiking from Nepal to Cambodia with my son Aaron.
Shop the sauces at byronbaychilli.com
Eat Mexican food from John’s takeaway restaurant OzyMex.
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