Posted May 23, 2006 by John in Makers

Interview With the Three Hot Tamales

Today I had the opportunity to sit down for an interview with Lisa and Kristi of the Three Hot Tamales. In addition to being one of the hottest up and coming fiery foods producers (Winners of the first place 2006 scovie award in the Habanero category with Cry Baby, and third place in the fruit category with Make Me Moan Mango), and extremely knowledgeable about hot foods, they’re also funny, irreverent, and a joy to talk with. With people like these ladies carrying the banner, it’s easy to see why the hot sauce community has such a bright future – it is tight knit and downright fun.

HSB: First off, how did you get started in the hot sauce business? And what was your inspiration?

Lisa: (Laughs) Unemployment. It was the summer of 2005. We have 6 kids between the three of us. Working a full time job was difficult; we had to take time off, it was really hard when the kids were young. I was Jodie’s daughter’s softball coach. My fiancee had a hot sauce collection. A lot of them didn’t have much flavor; they were all really hot, and mostly there for the burn. So I called Jodie and said let’s start a hot sauce company. We had a meeting the next morning, and the rest is history.

HSB: What do the three hot tamales bring to the table of hot sauce lovers? What sets your products apart?

Kristi: We focus on the flavor. We’re not looking burn your mouth off; we focus on the flavor, all natural – we don’t use extracts.

Lisa: We want to create something that is going to complement your food, rather thank kill it. We try to put sauces together with flavors that complement each other, flavors that are a little out of the ordinary, flavors that complement foods they are used on. We use Mango, and are starting to use Passion Fruit. The Cry Baby uses the freshest peppers. We hope and plan to never use extract. We stick with fresh peppers, habaneros and chipotles, or a form of high quality pepper mash. Have you tried our sauces?

HSB: No, I haven’t had the chance yet.

Lisa: (Gasp) Oh no. That means the interview has to stop here. (Laughs)

HSB: Sorry about that, I’ll get on it as soon as I can. So, tell me a little about your sauces.

Kristi: The Cry Baby, that’s the Scovie winner. It’s our most simple sauce. It’s my favorite, because of it’s simplicity, it’s bold flavor; but it’s not overpowering. It goes on everything. It’s an addictive sauce, that’s for sure.

Lisa: The Make Me Moan Mango is a nice fruity blend. It was our first developed hot sauce. You can tell I went from seeing extreme heat to wanting flavor. So I went to the kitchen, and tried to find the sweetest fruits I could find. I ended up with mango and pineapple, which by itself is great. Then I added some secret seasonings. The sweetness doesn’t overpower, and it doesn’t burn your taste buds off. It just gives you a little tingle in the back of your throat.
We have a sweet and a hot rub. There’s seven or eight different ingredients. It’s brown sugar based, which makes them caramelize on whatever you put them on. Any sauce you put on top of the rub will just stick.

There’s the Garlic lover’s steak sauce. People love that sauce – especially Nick’s wife. Thanks for the review! She’s our adopted Tamale, our fourth Tamale. There’s tons of roasted garlic. It’s beautiful to make to smell.

Then we have the Chipotle barbecue sauce. Full bodied, full flavor, just chunks of ingredients in there.

HSB: Describe a day in the life of a Tamale.

Lisa: We work all during the day – take care of the kids, then work on the business. Lots of networking, lots of sales, working with lots of distributors. New sauces, new rubs. And we’re trying to get things together for ZestFest in September.

HSB: Tell me about the creative process of coming up with a new sauce. How does the dynamic work between the three of you in the kitchen?

We don’t sit down and put our heads together. If we want to create something, it’s going to come to us. We don’t push the process. We get lots of samples from manufactures, and think about what we can do with them. Maybe I’m eating something at a restaurant, and think, “you know what would have tasted good with that?” It takes a long time. We don’t just try and push stuff out there to mass market.

HSB: What’s your favorite part of the Hot Sauce making process?

Kristi: The three of us are very good friends. We’re sitting there working together, seeding 20 pounds of habanero peppers. There’s a lot of laughter, a lot of bloopers, you know, habanero juice getting where it shouldn’t. But we’re working hard. You get a sense of accomplishment, working with people you love, and making a product you love. We started out with 10 sauces but got down to 4 – we wanted to be 100% satisfied with them all. It helps that we’re brutally honest. It makes it fun, it makes it worthwhile.

We do our R&D in Jersey, but we manufacture our sauces in Vermont. Even though we have a co-packer, we are always there and hands on while it’s getting done. We wake sure that the standards remain the way we intended them. We agreed that if our standards or quality are ever compromised, we’d close the business down. A lot of time, when a small maker gets big, and they compromise on a lot of things. We’d rather button up, say it’s been a nice run, rather than producing a sauce that isn’t up to our standards and our customers standards. We want each bottle to take like it was made by someones grandmother in a kitchen, not mass produces, not full of additives and preservative.

And we love the crazy road trips. (Laughs.)

HSB: It sounds like you have a lot of fun with what you’re doing!

Lisa: Any of us could stay in a 9 to 5 job and be miserable. If we weren’t getting satisfaction and enjoying ourselves, we wouldn’t do it. We could be miserable with any job.

HSB: Here’s the situation. You’re chosen to play culinary survivor. You’re stuck on a desert island and isolated from civilized kitchens for 40 days. You can bring one ingredient. What do you choose?

Lisa: Garlic.
Kristi: Garlic, I totally have to take garlic.

HSB: How do you go about naming a new product?

You’re like the four hundredth person to ask us that! Do you believe people have asked us if we get drunk to name our products?

Put it this way. We take the ingredients, and we try to put a flirty twist on it.

HSB: Let’s play a little word association, okay?

HSB: Tamale
Lisa: Hot
Kristi: Flirty girls tormenting men (laughs)

HSB: Garlic
Lisa: Necessity
Kristi: Roasted

HSB: Spice Rub
Lisa: (Laughs) rub me the right way
Kristi: You’ve got to get rubbed the right way.

HSB: Fruit
Lisa: Passion
Kristi: Summer

HSB: Burn
Lisa: Habanero mishaps

HSB: Anyone you’d like to thank? Anyone who’s helped you along?

First and foremost, we want to thank everybody whose allowed us to be part of this industry. We want to thank CaJohn. Brett from Jungle Jim’s, he’s a person who’s really helped us. And MSK. We’d like to thank CaJohn who has been a mentor to us. All the bloggers who’ve sent us supportive e-mails. There are so many; everyone who’s supported us, and welcomed us. It’s an amazing group of people, we consider them friends. The group at the Fiery Foods Show in New Mexico. They are truly special people. They’re real of people, down to earth. In regular business you’re afraid to talk to your competitor. We don’t even look at them like our competitors. We all want to grow together in the industry.

But not you, since you haven’t tasted our sauces. You’re going to get a Jersey Girl Beat down.

HSB: (Laughs nervously)

Lisa: You think we’re kidding, but ask Nick, he knows. (Laughs)

HSB: So what was your favorite part of the Fiery Foods Show?

Lisa: The people that we met. It was fantastic, above and beyond our expectations. The reaction of people – with this product, it’s like your baby. You’re a little hesitant, because you don’t know what reaction you’re going to get. It’s the moment of truth. The reactions we got – we were on cloud nine for for four days, then for 2 weeks after that. We hope the same thing happens in Texas. We are really looking forward to seeing everyone again.

You think the people on the blog are fun, then it’s even better when you meet them in person.

HSB: Anything else you’d like the readers of the HSB to know about the Three Hot Tamales?

We look forward to bringing them our sauces, and teasing their little palates. We’re doing something special for ZestFest, something secret. And we have 2 new sauces coming out by July.

HSB: And to finish, describe your products in three words or less:

Kristi: Hot, pleasurable, sensational
Lisa: Very, Very, Tasty

Three Hot Tamales, LLC
33 Shaw Street
Garfield, NJ 07026
Phone: 862-686-0533
Fax: 888-3-HOT-TAM