MALDITA FINDS HER HEART IN CHILIES
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
“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.