Dave Phillips from West Indies Spice Traders is another exciting addition to the Nelson food production scene, simply bursting with irrepressible energy and excitement for the chilli jam he produces and the flavoursome hot sauces he imports from Jamaica he is a man on a mission to bring the flavours of the Caribbean to New Zealand.
Phillips’ old English heritage shows in his white skin but as a third generation Jamaican this part of heritage is evident in his love for and enjoyment of life, including enjoying the wonderful fruity and spicy flavours of the Caribbean.
His eldest sister Carolyn arrived in New Zealand in about 1996 with her husband and two daughters, they rented a caravan and toured the country looking for the place to settle and, like so many other immigrants before them, they fell in love with Nelson
At the time Phillips was living in Miami and his brother-in-law arranged a surprise birthday party for Carolyn and talked most of the family into visiting New Zealand, they were all hooked on our beautiful region and so far two brothers and big sister are living here and another sister is going through the immigration process at the moment.
Phillips’, his partner Kelli and their daughter Tori moved here about eight years ago and bought a section in Delaware Bay where Carolyn already owned a section, in fact all three siblings all have sections on the same street.
On one visit to the piece of land they had purchased he had the crazy idea of clearing 1 ha of gorse 195 meters above the estuary and planting lime trees; in true Jamaican style the community got together and planted 200 of them.
Why lime trees? “I am obsessed with limes, we use them in cooking and drinks in the Caribbean all the time and I really missed having an abundant supply readily available. In about 1996 when I visited I couldn’t get limes in Nelson to make my famous rum punch and had to import them from Auckland and that was the inspiration for planting them.”
Not long after planting the limes “we installed a poly house for growing scotch bonnet chilli, which is part of the habanero chilli family with a distinctive flavour widely used in Jamaica cuisine”. As we talked about the heat of the scotch bonnet chilli he convinced me that while some of the food may be hot the essence of Caribbean food is all about flavour not just heat.
Growing things in what can be a pretty difficult environment creates challenges of its own and the lime trees struggled for the first few years due to a lack of fertility in the soils, the problem was fixed by Justin Quan who is now the fulltime gardener. All the horticulture is organic permaculture, nothing is brought into the property and they “work with nature not trying to battle it, we have lots of companion planting with things like artichokes beside a lime tree because the artichoke’s long tap root that helps to penetrate the dense clay”.
On the small farm they are totally self-sufficient, “everything is powered by solar energy, we have worm farms & create liquid fertilisers, massive compost piles that are layered with organic sawdust, fishmeal and horse manure then covered in plastic and basically cooked in the sun”.
Like many entreprenurial stories Phillips had products (chillis and limes) and then had to work out what they were going do them, “pretty much making it up as we went along”, and the obvious place to look for inspiration was their Jamaican heritage; with three generations on both parents’ sides of the family the Jamaican roots are deeply entrenched.
“One day while sister Carolyn was following our great aunts pepper jelly recipe she had an epiphany to add passionfruit and a squeeze of fresh lime juice to the jelly and thus our Hot Passion Chilli Jam was born.
Phillips gave me some samples of his imported hot sauces and a jar of his Hot Passion and while I have tried plenty of chilli jams the difference the passion fruit and limes bring is that rather than being single dimensional with just hot sweet chilli flavours it has multi-dimensional flavours with hot, sweet, sour and fruity characters. Even though the jam is made with scotch bonnet chillis, and you do get a hit of warm chilli heat in the flavours, there is also a burst of fresh lime, fruitiness of the passion fruit that merges with the red capsicum and with sweetness from the sugar that is needed to make it a jam.
It may be called a jam and you could probably spread it on toast but I think it is best used on a cracker with cheese or as a component in a marinade , “better still marinade the meat then as you cook it over a charcoal barbecue baste the meat with the jam glaze for a taste of Jamaican roadside food with drum-cooked-wood-fired flavours” says Phillips.
Hot Passion Chilli Jam is a true artisan product, handmade on a stove top, the limes are hand squeezed, the chillis grown on site and some capsicum and black passionfruit are also grown on site. Production is small and the handmade concept flows through to selling the product, they hand-select stores who stock it and until production can be increased while still retaining the artisanal heart of the product it is only available in one store in each region, in Nelson this is Prego and in Wellington at Moore Wilson.
For more about Dave Phillips and the West Indies Spice Traders products, including their range of imported hot sauces and the results of an office ‘hot sauce tasting’ check out my website – www.neilhodgson.nz