MALDITA FINDS HER HEART IN CHILIES

Palawan Daily News - - Feature - By Kia Jo­hanna Lamo

She ar­rived in her plaid sleeves with her hair up that led me to think, “so, this is the girl be­hind those chilies in a bot­tle?!”

Mell Fer­nan­dez is a 38-year-old Palaweña, who owns Maldita Fiery Foods-hot chili sauce usu­ally made of habañero and jalapeño chilies.

Maldita Fiery Foods started about two years ago when Mell ac­ci­den­tally dis­cov­ered the joy of mak­ing hot sauce. Back then, Mell grew chilies in­side her house as she was look­ing for an­other hobby back then un­til she found pas­sion in chilies.

“It was an ac­ci­dent. I was grow­ing chilies, nagha­hanap ako ng bagong hobby,” she said.

Her first ever “piece” was her chili gar­lic. She didn’t know any­thing about chilies, it’s sciences and all. All she knew was how to make chili gar­lic on her own, which she tried to make and her friends loved it and said that it could be turned into a busi­ness.

“I al­ways have in my head paano gu­mawa ng gar­lic chili tapos na­gus­tuhan ng mga kaibi­gan [ko] the first time I nailed it. And sabi nila, ‘why don’t you turn this into a busi­ness be­cause this is some­thing that we ob­vi­ously wanted to have more?’ So yeah, it all started there,” she said.

She also said that she tried to fer­ment chilies as she looks for new hob­bies and re­al­ized that she could re­ally make sauce out of her fer­mented chilies.

“I had ex­cess chilies and I fer­mented them. Af­ter a while, I re­al­ized that I could re­ally make chili sauce out of th­ese fer­mented chilies and I have a friend who taught me how to fer­ment chilies. It started with fer­ment­ing chilies, then nageksper­i­mento ako sa sauce,” Mell added.

This hot sauce maker is also a mem­ber of Chili Grower Philippines, a club sup­port­ing chili grow­ers in the Philippines, and said that her sauce won in the com­pe­ti­tion spear­headed by the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“Back then, nanalo ako, nag-cham­pion ako. Nanalo yung gawa ko na sauce sa Chili Grower Philippines. Nakakataba ng puso!” she said.

Mell found the or­ga­ni­za­tion a hub for find­ing her­self as it helped her how to grow chilies, how to cul­ture them and all. She said that with their group, she wouldn’t be here mak­ing hot sauce.

THE FACE BE­HIND

MALDITA

“Why is it named Maldita?” I asked Mell. She laughed and se­ri­ously thought of it for a while and replied, “Col­lege pa lang bansag na sa akin ‘yun eh… Pero di ako maldita, hindi lang ako con­form­ist,” and laughed again.

She said that Maldita is like a cute and naughty girl. I came think­ing of the Ma­dita Fiery Foods again and looked at the well pack­aged prod­uct and asked my­self, “Who is Maldita be­hind th­ese hot sauces?”

Well, Maldita is a sin­gle mom with two sons and a dog. An ex­tra­or­di­nary mom who plants chilies in her house. Not just chilies; re­ally hot chilies and even the hottest one!

Mell took In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy and suc­cess­fully fin­ished it, but pur­sued the line of arts af­ter grad­u­at­ing. She ex­plored a lot of busi­ness and arts back then as she once made hand­i­crafts, per­formed fire danc­ing and even sold lo­cal cof­fee beans be­fore.

“Pabago-bago ako ng gusto dati eh. Hindi ko pa na­ma­mas­ter yung isa, iba na na­man ang gusto ko,” she said.

Un­til she dis­cov­ered chilies. She dis­cov­ered what she re­ally likes; dis­cov­ered her fiery pas­sion.

When Mell found her “love” for chilies, she learned to fo­cus on one hobby only, and it has be­come her bread and but­ter. It’s what she loves do­ing every sin­gle day.

“First time to na sa isa lang ako nag fo­cus. Maiksi at­ten­tion span ko eh... Ito na gi­nawa ko araw araw, sim­ula pag gis­ing ko,” she said.

She does it all, from fer­men­ta­tion, to pro­cess­ing, to pack­age and dis­tri­bu­tion. She be­came the su­per woman of her own kitchen. She also didn’t want her helpers to be called “helpers.” For Mell, they are the “nin­jas.”

You’ll usu­ally find her on bazaars show­cas­ing her prod­uct. In fact, the tag line, “Nag­mamaldita sa Bazaars” be­came her sig­na­ture.

One of the great­est things about her sauces is that the names are cre­ated be­fore the ac­tual prod­uct. Her su­per­hot chili sauce was named “Carino Bru­tal.” Her gar­lic chili sauce is named “Devi­li­cious” be­cause it is made of “Sil­ing de­monyo.”

I also get amazed by the “Peaches and Screams” that are made with man­goes and “Hijo de fruita” be­cause it is made with fruits.

Mell also makes “sina­mak”, a vine­gar stuffed with herbs with lots of chilies. She named it “Baryada, ang sina­mak na pa­hamak”.

But what sets Maldita apart from other sauces out there is that, first, it is all or­ganic. Next one, it is purely tatak Palaweño, no doubt!

Her sauces are made of all nat­u­ral in­gre­di­ents, her “Car­iño Bru­tal” has that twist of spice and sweet be­cause it has cher­ries, with burst of fla­vor sting­ing your tongue.

Maldita hot sauces are in­deed fun, from its taste to be­ing beau­ti­fully pack­aged. It’s made for masochis­tic food­ies and has that very witty name.

Now, Mell is dis­tribut­ing her prod­ucts on bazaars, and through on­line mar­ket. Her sauces are now sent to restos in El Nido, Coron, and ev­ery­where in Puerto Princesa and even shipped to Manila.

THE MALDITA FACES CHAL­LENGE, TRI­ALS AND TRI­UMPH.

“My num­ber chal­lenge back then is the sup­ply,” Said Mell. It was her prob­lem, in­deed, she grows chili in her house and most of th­ese chili seeds came from USA. In fact, Mell planted var­i­ties of chilies that don’t usu­ally live in the coun­try. Even­tu­ally, found a sup­plier in Is­abela.

Mell had to master the sciences of chilies and the art of mak­ing it, she has to know the taste, the level of hot­ness. Mas­tered the art of mak­ing hot sauce but strug­gled on the art of busi­ness, so Mell had to learn, gladly, the De­part­ment of Trade and In­dus­try (DTI) sup­ports her prod­uct and has a pro­gram that re­quires her to at­tend en­tre­pre­neur ses­sions.

The hot sauce maker that she wants to level up her “hot sauce gam­ing” for the next few years through up­grad­ing her kitchen fa­cil­i­ties and through in­ven­tion of new chili sauces.

Mell also en­cour­age oth­ers to also ven­ture in the chili in­dus­try as she will be glad to see the chili in­dus­try grow in Palawan.

She said, for some­one to be a suc­cess­ful hot sauce maker, one should be cre­ative in in­no­vat­ing new hot sauces, and per­se­vere al­ways. She also said that chilies are good for the heart, as she found her heart in chilies.

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