By Lorrie Baumann
Jim Pachence takes peppers more seriously than most. He’s the entrepreneur behind Serious Foodie, which offers a line of cooking and finishing sauces that feature fusion flavors, most of which celebrate the flavors of peppers grown around the world. His idea was to focus on the unique flavors of the peppers, rather than relying solely on their burn.
Pachence, who has a Ph.D. in biophysics, started Serious Foodie in 2015 after a 40-year career as a serial entrepreneur in the medical devices industry, followed by culinary training in the U.S. and Europe. He and his family then worked for a few years to develop recipes based on the peppers and flavors he’d discovered during his world travels.
“I started off as a very serious amateur cook,” he said. “While phasing out my biotech career, I wanted to do something around the culinary business. We had thought of wanting to do something in culinary art, and I had an interest in – not necessarily hot – peppers. I wanted to know why the world has so many peppers. Why and how do peppers taste different when they’re grown in different places?”
“Some chilies are very harsh and are bred simply to be hot, not to be flavorful, sometimes painful,” he continued. “We started to look at the opposite: What are the species that are bred to be flavorful? Why are there a thousand Mexican varietals?”
The answer to those questions, he decided, is that different varieties of peppers are cultivated around the world to complement the various flavors that typify their cuisines as a whole. For instance, the aji panca pepper from Peru is used in just about every Peruvian dish in one way or another, Pachence said. It’s used both fresh and dried, sometimes in a paste.
When it’s fresh, it has a sweet, slightly smoky, fruity flavor that inspired Pachence to experiment with how it could be used in sauces that would complement the vegetables and proteins that comprise the American culinary lexicon. “It’s slightly spicy, has multiple levels of flavor, is truly unique to the cooking of that country,” he said. “The taste is used everywhere. The Peruvians use it on their vegetables, so we played with that. Meaty fish, incorporated into a ceviche – those are some of the examples where we reflect how the sauce is used in the U.S. versus how it’s used in Peru. We made a Blood Orange and Aji Panca sauce, which reflects the bracing acidity that you see in the Peruvian dishes, but using our own fusion twist.”
The Blood Orange and Aji Panca Cooking Sauce is one of seven different sauces in the line that started three years ago with Roasted Hatch Chile Cooking Sauce, which was the result of a friend’s invitation to visit him in New Mexico and take in the Hatch Chile Festival, an annual Labor Day weekend celebration of southern New Mexico’s most famous crop. “As I started to do my culinary experiences, I was interested in the local cuisines of semi-exotic places around the world,” Pachence says as he explains how a visit to a small-town harvest festival evolved into a family business that employs his son, Paul, as its marketing executive and his daughter Lisa as a part-time sales executive, with the occasional assistance of his wife, who’s still a practicing physician. “I wanted to teach my children what it meant to be an entrepreneur,” he said. “I’m just very strong on the entrepreneurial spirit and how that helps people around the community. It helps create jobs. It helps improve the local community. I like to connect the community – that whole idea of thinking globally but acting locally.”
“The science geek in me went about creating the sauces systematically, trying to find the flavors in the chile that would match with flavor profiles,” he said. He ordered himself a supply of Hatch chiles and started playing with different combinations of fruits and herbs with the peppers, and ended up with a blend of the peppers with passionfruit juice and herbs. “We created something that people really liked and wanted to buy,” he said.
From there, the line grew to seven different sauces targeted at consumers from 25 to 55 with discretionary income, who are really interested in both gourmet food and healthy eating, but who don’t necessarily have a lot of time to experiment with flavors in their own cooking. The sauces are all natural with no artificial preservatives or genetically modified organisms. They have low salt and low sugar. “We approach cooking as a holistic, healthy, flavor-packed experience,” he said. “We show people how you can make a gourmet meal without using a lot of fat that adds extraneous calories.”
The sauces are also gluten-free, and while a couple of them include anchovies, the others are vegan. They’re made in small test market batches at a commercial kitchen in St. Petersburg, Florida, and by a co-packer based in Albany, New York, who’s familiar with the demands of artisanal food production, according to Pachence. “We try to keep the flavor profile medium or lower, as far as the spiciness is concerned,” he said. “Most people can tolerate the sauce. We always say that you can always add hot back into it, but you can’t take it away.”
The sauces are currently sold in 150 stores around the country and perform best for medium-size gourmet shops that also have meat and cheese departments, Pachence said. “Almost every sauce we have has a personal travel experience associated with it,” he added. “We’d tasted something like this somewhere else that we wanted to recreate.”