Three times a week Clarke stands on the sand at Oualie Beach to meet the boat which left St Kitts earlier. He’s waiting on a box of his precious cargo — 50lbs of Scotch bonnet peppers packed up by a farmer on Nevis’ larger sibling island which, with more farmland, can produce much greater quantities of these red-hot treasures. Clarke then takes his bounty to the small industrial kitchen carved out of the basement of his mother-in-law’s house in the Zetlands area of the island, known as its breadbasket — “in the mountains, where it’s nice and cool”, he says.
Clarke — who also works full-time as a chef at the Four Seasons Resort Nevis — produces between 300-350 bottles of sauce a week. He’s aided in his enterprise by his son and mother-in-law; they help pick the peppers and peel the garlic. The peppers are cooked down with vinegar, salt, sugar, thyme and garlic before being left to mature for a few weeks.
The sweet but intensely punchy smell of Scotch bonnets fills Clarke’s white-washed kitchen. There are piles of peppers still fiery red and whole, as well as buckets of them curing. For Clarke it’s all about tasting — he now knows exactly what his sauce should taste like and that it needs to be perfected before bottling — every single batch he makes he’ll tweak a little here and there.
“When I invented it, I was inspired by some of the English dips. I remembered the tanginess of tomato sauce,” he admits. “A lot of the time West Indian pepper sauce is just hot. Mine has a sweetness with the flavour of the thyme. It’s character; it’s not just heat. The secret is authenticity, and consistency.”
Having grown up in Manchester, Clarke returned to his parents’ birthplace in 1999. “My father was getting old and wanted to come back,” he explains. “I started making pepper sauce in 2003, tweaking it until I got it right. I sold it to shops, then supermarkets and it became big by word of mouth.”
As well as hot pepper and thyme, Clarke makes mango, guava and banana hot pepper sauces. He also makes chutneys, award-winning ice creams and sorrel wine. What’s more, his hot sauces will soon be available in the UK via Amazon.
Inspecting his tubs of peppers — all in various states of maturity — he tells me, “Coming from Nevis, the sauces are filled with love and sunshine. It’s like making wine,” he explains. “There’s a point where it tastes just as you remember it should.”
Published in the November 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)