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Episode 136: Ifoma Smart

Ifoma Smart is a social media technology executive, Muay Thai instructor, and the creator of Wicked Smart Hot Sauce. Sara and Marshall sit down with Smart to talk about the inspiration and family tradition behind Wicked Smart, bringing his brand to life, and sharing his passion with his community.

Episode 136: Ifoma Smart

Sara: I'm Sara Geidlinger.

Marshall: And I'm Marshall Ward.

Ifoma: Hi, everyone. My name is Ifoma Smart.

Ifoma: I'm the owner and founder of Wicked Smart Hot Sauce.

Ifoma: Also I train and coach at TKO Fighting Arts in Kitchener.

Sara: Ifoma, thank you so much for joining us today.

Ifoma: Thank you for having me.

Ifoma: It's such a pleasure to finally meet you guys in per person.

Sara: Quote unquote in “person.”

Sara: You were an early supporter of our show.

Sara: And then once we got to know you a little bit over the internet, we started to realize that you're involved in some super cool stuff.

Sara: So your amazing hot sauce company, Wicked Smart, Marshall and I are both big fans -- that is what drew us to you.

Sara: And then, of course, we find out, oh, you've got this super cool, important job at Hootsuite.

Sara: And then we did a little more digging.

Sara: And you're a fighting arts instructor as well.

Sara: So we want to know all kinds of stuff about you today, and we might not have even found it all.

Sara: What else is going on?

Ifoma: I've got stories.

Ifoma: Where do you want to start?

Sara: Well, we're very passionate about many things, but one of them is hot sauce.

Sara: Let's start with hot sauce.

Sara: So this is a passion project for you that's turned into something that's a real business that's getting traction.

Sara: You've got a lot of local and beyond shops supporting your sauce.

Sara: Why don't we talk about that?

Ifoma: Yeah, absolutely.

Ifoma: So the hot sauce business started in December of 2020 during COVID.

Ifoma: However, I've been making hot sauce for well over 15 years.

Ifoma: Prior to that, just a bit of context.

Ifoma: My family is from Trinidad and Tobago.

Ifoma: I was born in Trinidad, and growing up, we always had hot sauce with every single meal it was there.

Ifoma: It was just one of those things.

Ifoma: And so between family members making it, between family making, between me growing up and making it and growing up with it, it was always something that I made and gave away to friends and families as housewarming presents or as gifts.

Ifoma: And then during COVID, I realized that there could be an appetite or a market for this product and went on Amazon, bought a few bottles, perfected the recipe a little bit, and came out with two models, two versions, and decided to test the market.

Ifoma: And lo and behold, the response was so overwhelming that I decided to just see how far it would go.

Ifoma: Fast forward a year later we’re in over 20 different retail stores.

Ifoma: The popularity has become super enormous, really.

Ifoma: And a lot of fun.

Ifoma: Right.

Ifoma: Because one of the reasons why I started the business is because when I think about my earliest memories, it's always been my happiest memories, to be quite honest, it's typically been over a meal.

Ifoma: Right.

Ifoma: Sharing that experience with people laughing and smiling and joking and having great food and hot sauce was always there and always a part of that.

Ifoma: I wanted to create a product that was really part of those conversations and part of those experiences for other families and other households.

Marshall: The two colors of your hot sauces are probably two of the most beautiful hot sauce colors I've ever seen.

Marshall: They're just gorgeous.

Marshall: And I think about how, for example, in TASTE in St. Jacobs, they're prominently showcased in the all-Canadian section of the emporium.

Marshall: You must have been pretty thrilled when you realized you had something that was absolutely delicious.

Marshall: They're visually gorgeous.

Marshall: Those two colors you've made.

Ifoma: Thank you.

Ifoma: Absolutely thrilled and humbled as well.

Ifoma: I really did not expect the response to be so overwhelmingly positive.

Ifoma: And it really has been.

Ifoma: So thank you for that, Marshall.

Ifoma: Absolutely.

Sara: I love both.

Sara: But my favorite is the Soca.

Ifoma: It's so funny.

Sara: They're polarizing totally like our times we're living in.

Ifoma: Right.

Ifoma: Either you really love the punch in your face heat and flavor of the Calypso, or you love the fruit forward nature of the Soca.

Ifoma: It really depends on what meal you're having with it.

Sara: Right.

Marshall: Well, you know, what I told Sara was I loved Gerber baby food as a kid.

Marshall: In fact, I ate Gerber baby food until I was about 20.

Marshall: The fruit ones.

Ifoma: The peaches, right?

Marshall: Yes, the peaches, the strawberry delight, the blueberry.

Marshall: Right.

Marshall: I remember people found it really odd that there was baby food in my fridge.

Sara: Apple sauce.

Sara: It's a dessert.

Marshall: Yeah.

Marshall: But anyways, I immediately thought of peach baby food when I tasted your Soca for the first time.

Marshall: And it was incredible.

Marshall: It was like, wow, this reminds me of that time in my life.

Marshall: And it has this amazing heat to it as well.

Ifoma: Amazing.

Ifoma: Thank you for that.

Ifoma: And the thing about hot sauces is that they can never be hot enough for some people, but they can also be really hot for others.

Ifoma: And so just trying to find that.

Ifoma: Right.

Ifoma: Balance is really important.

Ifoma: And so part of the design principle around the hot sauce is balancing both heat and flavor.

Ifoma: So making sure that it's not just spicy and hot, but also something that you want to enhance your dishes with your meals.

Ifoma: Right.

Marshall: And how are you producing your hot sauces?

Ifoma: Yes, great question.

Ifoma: So I currently produce the hot sauces at a commercial kitchen in Cambridge at a lovely facility called Little Mushroom Catering.

Ifoma: And so Little Mushroom has they've got a restaurant.

Ifoma: They've got catering facility.

Ifoma: They've got a food shop as well.

Sara: And so I've been fortunate enough to partner with them and make the hot sauce out of their establishment about that balance of heat and people like hot and people like mild and people like fruity or whatever.

Sara: Through this process of exploring hot sauces with Marshall, I've learned there's a lot of what is it called?

Sara: A gay sauce or prank sauce.

Sara: Like one that's so hot, it's hot just for the sake of being hot.

Sara: It's not necessarily something to enjoy.

Sara: Yeah, the prank.

Sara: What do they call it?

Marshall: I don't know.

Marshall: Because, like, if almost said there are people who seem to have an insatiable appetite for heat.

Ifoma: Right.

Sara: You know me, I like hot stuff, but that stuff is like, I'd like to keep my eyebrows.

Ifoma: And don't get me wrong, products like that absolutely have a market.

Sara: For sure.

Ifoma: They absolutely have a market.

Ifoma: But as someone who enjoys food, genuinely enjoys food and is passionate about it, I'd rather not ruin my dishes or ruin my meals with something that's so overwhelmingly hot and taste what I'm making.

Sara: Yeah, exactly.

Sara: One thing I really like watching online is the journey that you have during the nice month here in Ontario, going to different markets and different events and selling your wares.

Sara: And you're always very positive about posting, like, check out these people that we met or check out our booth.

Sara: Come see.

Sara: And it always looks gorgeous.

Ifoma: Thank you for that.

Ifoma: The beauty about local events is that you really do get a chance to meet the people that buy your products.

Ifoma: And it's really humbling.

Ifoma: So I've had people come up to me from as far away as New Brunswick.

Speaker UNK: Right.

Ifoma: Come up to events and say, hey, you heard that you were here, and we wanted to stop them because we don't have it up there yet.

Ifoma: And so that, to me, is really special.

Ifoma: Again, getting a chance to meet people and understand how they approach hot sauce and how they use it in their dishes.

Ifoma: And at home, I had someone that used the Soca hot sauce.

Ifoma: Are you ready for this, Sangria?

Speaker E: Yeah, I can see that.

Ifoma: Yes.

Sara: Like a spicy drink.

Ifoma: Like a spicy.

Ifoma: I'm like, that's amazing.

Ifoma: I never in a million years would have thought of that.

Ifoma: It's phenomenal.

Sara: Marshall, I just found this.

Sara: Or I just found it.

Sara: I think you've had it for a spicy lemonade.

Sara: It's like this carbonated pineapple drink that has a kick to it.

Sara: At Vincenzo’s.

Marshall: Yes.

Sara: But I want to talk a little bit about your art as well.

Sara: Your logo makes me so happy.

Sara: And I just realized that you have hoodies.

Sara: So you're going to be getting a couple of orders from this gal.

Marshall: And the name, the name the Wicked Smart.

Sara: I mean, first of all, you've got the coolest last name ever.

Sara: If somebody like myself has last name Geidlinger, I'm proud of it.

Sara: But it doesn't really roll off the tongue.

Sara: Smart is a beautiful last name.

Sara: But Wicked Smart is such a cool name.

Sara: And the art, it's just that when I see it, I'm like it's.

Sara: Me, it's a nerd on fire trying to do cool stuff.

Ifoma: So a few years ago, I was prescribed glasses.

Ifoma: And it's one of those things with getting old, right?

Ifoma: We all get old and so I had to wear glasses more frequently.

Ifoma: And I thought, you know what?

Ifoma: I have to find a way to incorporate this into the product, into the brand, into the identity.

Ifoma: And obviously, it goes to your point, Sara.

Ifoma: It goes along with the last name, the wicked part, the backstory there is in the Islands.

Ifoma: When something is really good, it's wicked.

Ifoma: Also, when you have a hot sauce that you really like, it either lashes or it's wicked.

Ifoma: And there are, quote, unquote, ignorant sauces that are hot just for the sake of being hot.

Ifoma: This is not one of those sauces.

Ifoma: Right.

Ifoma: It's eaten with flavor.

Ifoma: And so that conjunction of Wicked and obviously the last name had to be a part of it really brought the branding to life.

Marshall: Sarah and I have talked about how we could make a documentary about just the hot sauce community in one of the regions.

Marshall: Yeah.

Marshall: Talk about some of the other folks out there making hot sauce and how you've connected with them.

Ifoma: Yeah, absolutely.

Ifoma: I had no idea that, A, we had such a prolific hot sauce community, and B, it was so inclusive as well.

Ifoma: So I really had the pleasure of meeting a few folks in the community.

Ifoma: Special shout out to Malcolm Henry in Cambridge.

Ifoma: So Malcolm has a brick and mortar shop in Cambridge on Ainsley Street called MH Fine Foods, where he not only sells his hot sauce, but he also sells a number of local products, not just hot sauce, but variety of different gourmet dishes and accompaniments.

Ifoma: And so, Malcolm has been a great supporter of the product and of me personally with introducing me to different farmers, introducing me to different resources to really help scale my business.

Ifoma: And so phenomenal.

Ifoma: And he doesn't just do that with me.

Ifoma: He does that with a variety of other people in the community as well.

Ifoma: Also had the pleasure of meeting Kris from Ginger Goat.

Ifoma: Kris is notorious now for having his product on First We Feast, which is on The Hot One Season 15 last year.

Sara: Oh, yeah, we saw every episode.

Ifoma: We're big fans, which is amazing, right from a local Canadian Kitchener based hot sauce company.

Ifoma: Being on such a stage is really phenomenal.

Ifoma: Neil's Real Deal also had the pleasure of meeting Neil at an event in Paris, third generation Trinidadian as well.

Ifoma: So we have that bond and makes a phenomenal product that reminds me of my grandmother's hot sauce.

Ifoma: And so just being able to connect with a variety of people in the community that have a passion for hot sauce and really want to share that passion with others has been phenomenal.

Ifoma: It's been really great.

Marshall: Love how you guys promote each other's hot sauce, too.

Marshall: I think I discovered Wicked Smart through Island Son’s Bajan Tyga’s Jeff Davis.

Marshall: You know, there's your hot sauce and there's Jeff saying, hey, you got to try this.

Ifoma: And Jeff is another great example, right?

Ifoma: Jeff has been doing this for I think four years, three or four years now.

Ifoma: And he's got a phenomenal product out there.

Ifoma: It's immediately recognizable because of the color, because the logo and because the branding that he does.

Ifoma: And again, I think the market is so big for everyone.

Ifoma: And one of the benefits of COVID because we can't travel, it's really forced people to be really hyper local.

Ifoma: And so to frequent and to shop locally and to support local businesses, which really creates the secondary, even tertiary economy for businesses like mine.

Sara: I saw a recent post, you're in the parking lot with your bottles with a shop behind you.

Sara: Marshall and I often talk about money that you might make from a local endeavor that local people are buying, that you have to then spend that you take back out into the community and give to another local person, another local business.

Sara: It just feels beautiful.

Sara: It feels good, and it feels right.

Ifoma: So true.

Ifoma: I was fortunate to partner with a local software company who for the holiday season decided to not do Christmas events was really much with choice.

Ifoma: Rather it was limited options.

Ifoma: And so what they decided to do was to gift their over 200 employees with local gift baskets fully stocked with products from the community to create awareness.

Ifoma: And not only did they do that, but they also decided to have a focus on BIPOC businesses and local businesses.

Ifoma: So it was really a double punch of supporting local and supporting the local, bipolar community.

Ifoma: One small story.

Ifoma: So in October, I was invited to attend the Mayor's October 1 market.

Ifoma: And so I pull up in a temporary car that I had because I was in the middle of buying a new car and car wasn't ready yet.

Ifoma: And so I bought an old beater.

Ifoma: I bought a BW 2009 VW Jetta.

Sara: It's a good car.

Ifoma: Great car, great car.

Ifoma: Full of trust, but with a little bit in terms of when it would start.

Ifoma: And so Michelle and I finished setting up our events table, our booth, and it was five minutes to the event starting.

Ifoma: And so I had to move the car.

Ifoma: So I go to my car and it won’t start, wouldn't move at all.

Ifoma: So someone comes and knocks on the windows, they're like, do you need a boost?

Ifoma: I'm like, yeah, I'll ask the person in front of me.

Ifoma: So, sure enough, I got to ask the person in front of me like, sorry, I can't help you.

Ifoma: I've got an electric vehicle.

Ifoma: I can't give you a boost of batteries underneath.

Ifoma: And so the person that knocked on the window said, tell you what, I'll go get my SUV.

Ifoma: But for now, let's move your car onto the street.

Ifoma: And I'll give you a boost.

Ifoma: So he's fully backed out, and helps me push the car out onto the street, pop the hood.

Ifoma: He brings his SUV up front.

Ifoma: I get the jumper cables from the back of my car.

Ifoma: As we're going to boost the vehicle, someone with a camera comes up and says, excuse me, Mr. Mayor, do you mind if we take your picture?

Sara: Sounds about right.

Ifoma: The Mayor of Waterloo helping me by boosting my car and pushing it. I said, I'm sorry, I had no idea.

Ifoma: But thank you and stop by for a bottle of hot sauce as a quick thank you.

Ifoma: And so it was just being able to connect the community in that way is phenomenal.

Ifoma: And that's not an opportunity that I would have had, had I not started the business.

Marshall: So you would have been well equipped too, with your background in other areas, to launch a hot sauce company, right?

Marshall: That would have served you very well.

Ifoma: I agree.

Ifoma: Absolutely.

Ifoma: As a business nerd, I love the business aspect of it.

Ifoma: Right.

Ifoma: I love not only just the ownership, but starting with an idea and bringing it all the way through to launch and beyond.

Ifoma: So there are multiple different facets of the business that really appeal to me.

Ifoma: And the fact that my personal name and brand is attached to it means a lot means that there's a certain amount of quality that you have to expect and that you also have to deliver because your name is attached to it.

Ifoma: Am I going to retire on this, Marshall?

Ifoma: No, definitely not.

Ifoma: But that's not the point, right?

Ifoma: The point is to share the passion with the community.

Sara: And something that's really great about that, though, too, is as makers and we're artists ourselves, we talk to a lot of creative people.

Sara: But that's a big part of what people struggle with, whether they're trying to get their passion out there just to share with the community and cover their costs, recoup those costs, or whether they're trying to make a real go of it as a business is that creatives often struggle with the business aspect of it.

Sara: Right.

Sara: And have to call.

Sara: We definitely do.

Sara: We're learning a lot at the date along the way.

Marshall: It's a huge learning curve for me.

Marshall: It's never been part of my world.

Ifoma: I have an older brother who's a musician.

Ifoma: He's a very talented and slightly well known musician.

Ifoma: He's a drummer for Serena Ryder and Big Wreck, plus a variety of other bands.

Sara: Awesome.

Ifoma: And I've always envied him for the pure, natural trade of talent that he has ever since he was four years old.

Ifoma: He could draw freehand.

Ifoma: Amazing, amazing work of art, works of art.

Ifoma: And then at 14 or 15, transition from graphic arts to music and hasn't looked back since.

Ifoma: And I always envy them for that.

Ifoma: And I thought, I have zero creative talent.

Ifoma: I can barely tune a radio.

Ifoma: I can't sing.

Ifoma: I want to learn to play the guitar, but I can't.

Ifoma: I just don't have the innate musicality.

Ifoma: But my creativity comes from cooking.

Ifoma: And that's how I express my love, right?

Ifoma: That's how I express my communication.

Ifoma: And so being able to take that and invest it into pour that energy into the hot sauce, that's my creativity.

Ifoma: That's my creative outlet.

Ifoma: Again, that's what nurtures me and sustains me.

Ifoma: It's not the financial impact or it's not the acclaim.

Ifoma: It's really that, to be quite honest.

Sara: This is such a fantastic thing that you're saying, because just like you said, not everyone can play an instrument well.

Sara: And what I've learned in my life is not everyone can sing.

Sara: It's not for everyone.

Sara: I'm not looking at you directly.

Sara: We just recently talked about that not everyone can sing, but not everyone can cook.

Sara: So that is a creative, innate talent that either you learn from your family or that you've gone off and learned on your own in different ways.

Sara: But not everyone can do that.

Ifoma: So true.

Ifoma: I remember the first dish that I made.

Ifoma: I was eleven years old, so I was raised by a single mom.

Ifoma: It was my mom.

Ifoma: My brother and I and mom was working, but as a kid, I was hung out where the adults were.

Ifoma: I was hung up in the kitchen and watching my mom do what she did.

Ifoma: And one day she came home from work, and I had made at eleven, I had made Trinidadian curry chicken with potatoes, chickpeas and rice and didn't burn the house down.

Ifoma: Who made this?

Ifoma: And I said, Well, I did.

Ifoma: And she's like, how did you do that?

Ifoma: I said, by watching you.

Ifoma: By watching you do it.

Ifoma: And so not that I advocate kids doing that, but it led to this, right?

Ifoma: It led to a journey and a passion for food and having an interest in sharing that with people.

Marshall: I've always thought there was a connection.

Marshall: When we talk about creative arts, there's a connection between creative arts and martial arts, which you're involved in.

Marshall: I remember for years I went and watched my family participate at Grand River Karate in the dojo.

Marshall: And I would sit on the bench at the back and I'd watch and I enjoyed it and beat it kind of like performance art.

Marshall: That's how what it was for me.

Marshall: If you're not physically taking part in it, you can really enjoy it as a spectator.

Marshall: And like I said, it came off almost like a beautiful performance.

Marshall: Where does the marshmallow fit into your life?

Marshall: And how long have you been involved in that?

Ifoma: I've been involved in martial arts for over 20 years.

Ifoma: So I started when I was 19.

Ifoma: And so as a kid again with a single mom and an older brother, we didn't really have a lot of money for extracurricular events.

Ifoma: And so while there was always a desire to want to be like Bruce Lee, never enrolled in any sport until that was a little bit later in life.

Ifoma: And so at 19, I enrolled in Tae Kwon Do and instantly fell in love with martial arts.

Ifoma: So practiced it for 15 years.

Ifoma: Was halfway through my third degree when I stopped to do something different.

Ifoma: And when I moved to Kitchen and Waterloo in 2007, I wanted to get back into martial arts and discovered TKO Fighting Arts over on Mill Street.

Ifoma: And I've been training there ever since.

Ifoma: And what I love about this version of martial arts is that it's the truth.

Ifoma: It is 100% the truth.

Sara: What do you mean by that?

Ifoma: What I mean by that is if you train hard and you train well, it shows.

Ifoma: If you don't, it shows.

Ifoma: And so if you think about the competitive nature that you've got to combatants really going at it and demonstrating, putting their art on display, it is the person that has the most practice, the most heart, the most energy, the most focused, that really went and that focus, that truth is so universal.

Ifoma: And so when I teach my classes, I always teach my students to train with intention, right?

Ifoma: Train with focus, train with purpose.

Ifoma: Don't just throw a punch for the sake of throwing a punch.

Ifoma: Throw a punch to hit.

Ifoma: That's why we're here.

Ifoma: We're here to ground ourselves and to eliminate the noise from the world and really focus for an hour and a half on our physicality, our mental alignment, our spirit, our being, and to really immerse ourselves and be honest with ourselves.

Ifoma: And so, again, when you're training in front of the mirror, when you're training in front of a class and you look at your form, you will know right away whether it's off or not.

Ifoma: And so, again, it's martial arts is the truth.

Ifoma: And I absolutely love it, completely passionate about it and have the privilege to not only train, but to continue to coach as well and to coach other players.

Sara: I'm just taking that in.

Sara: It's just like music.

Sara: It's like practicing piano or I'm sure your brother would argue, practicing drums or learning a new skill or a set of songs.

Sara: It's that doing something with intention and looking at the end of the line instead of rushing through it.

Sara: I know my piano teacher, I'm like an adult piano student.

Sara: Don't be impressed with progress.

Sara: But my piano teacher, she's been a guest on her show, Natasjja, Deborah and she's always taught me, like, to learn the last line of music, learn the last bar, and crush that bar so that when you've worked your way through this song, you can look forward to that little end piece that you already know that you're fantastic at.

Sara: Just giving me that little focus really helps me through that practice.

Ifoma: That's consistent with what you just said, Sarah.

Ifoma: And martial arts, it's really about repetition, practicing your form, practicing, practicing your stance.

Ifoma: It's also about being aware of your body.

Ifoma: And not a lot of people are a lot of people are stuck in their heads and disconnected from their body.

Ifoma: And again, the whole point of being intentional with martial arts is to reduce that friction.

Ifoma: And focus on what your body is doing and what your body needs to do in order for you to advance it's.

Sara: Elusive mindfulness that we always talk about.

Ifoma: Right, 100%.

Ifoma: That's exactly it.

Sara: Yeah.

Marshall: Tell us about your day job.

Ifoma: Love to you.

Ifoma: So my day job involves working with a number of global brands to help them succeed on social.

Ifoma: And the way that they succeed on social is I have a team of customer success managers that really care about what these companies care about and leveraging social media and very social media platforms to drive engagement, to drive advocacy, to increase share of wallet share of brand and doing that using our platform.

Ifoma: And so what I love about it is I get to solve problems every day that are so unique and so different from what I do in my spare time, but also makes a huge impact.

Ifoma: And so Hootsuite has 1200 employees and counting and the ability to make an impact for not just our customers, but in the lives of my employees and my team is so hugely rewarding.

Ifoma: And the fact that it's also a Vancouver based Canadian company is phenomenal.

Ifoma: It's really phenomenal.

Sara: I know I said to Marshall yesterday, we were meeting, and Marshall said, okay, so we're meeting with Ifoma tomorrow morning.

Sara: We're talking all about hot sauce.

Sara: I hold the phone.

Sara: He also has a very important job at Hootsuite.

Marshall: And you said I said, oh, I said, that's been the case with all the local hot sauce because we've made is we've talked half about hot sauce and half about the way they support themselves and their professional life.

Ifoma: Amazing.

Ifoma: What I love about Hootsuite is that and the opportunity that I have at Hootsuite is that as a small business owner, I also get to see it as a consumer and a creator of content.

Speaker UNK: Right.

Ifoma: And so being able to bring that true, authentic self in my other world into a work context isn't frowned upon.

Ifoma: It's actually viewed as a positive, because I can also advocate for other small businesses that are trying to bootstrap their businesses, leveraging social first as a means to reach a wide audience and on the ground.

Sara: You get to hear their pain points and their struggles.

Ifoma: Absolutely.

Sara: And like a lot of small businesses and sometimes makers as well, and creatives, the content is a struggle for them to make it look good.

Sara: Right.

Sara: And not to dissing hot sauce in particular.

Sara: I'm just saying your content, like I was saying at the top of the show, is gorgeous.

Sara: I mean, you've got transparent background logos going on to your market photos.

Sara: You've got little icons, you've got stuff going on.

Sara: I'm like, this guy knows what he's doing here.

Marshall: He's a beautiful face.

Marshall: Yes.

Marshall: And food.

Sara: And often your family is with you in some of the photos.

Ifoma: Thank you.

Ifoma: And my approach with social is it can't just be about the hot tub after a while.

Ifoma: People just get tired of looking at the same pictures of bottles over and over and over.

Sara: Yeah.

Ifoma: So I do try to incorporate real life.

Ifoma: And real life is my family.

Ifoma: Real life is my puppy.

Ifoma: Real life is me making hot sauce.

Ifoma: Real life is me cooking.

Ifoma: Not that I eat like that every day, but when I make something and I share it, it's out of luck.

Ifoma: And also showing and demonstrating different ways of leveraging the hot sauce and applying the hot sauce to food.

Marshall: It's funny you would say people get tired of looking at bottles over and over.

Marshall: Sarah and I are going to go record an episode at Taste the Fourth Sense, the best hot sauce emporium around in St. Jacobs.

Marshall: And I could honestly gaze at a wall of hot sauce for hours.

Marshall: When I go to Vincenzo’s, I'm probably 15 minutes just looking at hot sauce.

Sara: I've been there with you.

Marshall: It's true.

Marshall: Blazing with all those colors and beautiful designs.

Marshall: But I realized, wow, it's incredibly competitive as well.

Marshall: When you fill a wall full of hot sauce, many of the bottles are about the same size.

Marshall: Right.

Marshall: There's many different approaches to labels.

Marshall: One of my favorite hot sauce is both for the flavors and the design is I love Marie Sharps.

Marshall: I think so many of the local hot sauces have done a great job.

Marshall: Villain hot sauce is one of my favorites in Ontario.

Marshall: And then you see how the hot sauces make their way into the supermarket sometimes.

Marshall: But when you're looking at a wall of hot sauce, let's just say, Vincenzo, what do you see when it comes to design and what attracts your eye when you're looking at so many bottles of hot sauce?

Ifoma: Yeah.

Ifoma: Amazing.

Ifoma: So the first thing that I look at is the label.

Ifoma: The label has to catch my eye.

Ifoma: The second thing I would look at is, believe it or not, the ingredients.

Ifoma: As a cook, as a chef, I'm curious as to what's actually in there first and the comp composition of the hot sauce and then the color of the sauce.

Ifoma: The color of the sauce is usually pretty telling.

Ifoma: And if each of those three categories take a box for me, then I will absolutely buy it and certainly try it.

Ifoma: And then I was thinking, great, what meal can I make around this sauce?

Ifoma: Because it's not just something that you're going to pour on either.

Ifoma: Chicken wings.

Ifoma: I want to do something really special and really to elevate the sauce.

Marshall: It's such a big decision when somebody makes a hot sauce.

Marshall: Like, you can go really far one way and make a really crass, like supposed to be humorous, ignorant.

Sara: Now it's an ignorant sauce.

Marshall: Or you can be really classy about it.

Marshall: Right.

Marshall: Or you can do something very different, like what Jeff Davis did with Bajan Tyga, which is go for this wider, totally different jar.

Marshall: Right.

Marshall: Those are big, big decisions you're making, though, when you're going to launch a hot sauce.

Ifoma: Spoiler alert.

Ifoma: I'm actually in the midst of doing research and development for a new sauce.

Sara: You have two customers already.

Sara: Thank you.

Ifoma: And these are all the same considerations.

Ifoma: Marshall just trying to figure out not just the composition of the sauce, but the color matters, the logo design matters, the flavor profile and the market that you're launching.

Ifoma: The sauce also matters.

Ifoma: And so I can launch something here that's going to have a certain residence and then launch it in Ottawa or even Trinidad, for that matter.

Ifoma: And it would have a different impact.

Ifoma: And so these are all different factors that go into figuring out what comes next.

Ifoma: But watch your calendar.

Ifoma: Something's coming soon.

Sara: Sylvia Ward, Marshall's wife, makes a hot sauce.

Sara: Are you guys going to be marketing that?

Marshall: Yes.

Marshall: Maybe you need a commercial kitchen.

Marshall: Hey, Ifoma, sometimes you can see hot sauces that have this great longevity being around for years.

Marshall: But I think it has much more to do with the appearance.

Marshall: And the best example I can think of is Satan's Blood, which is an extract.

Marshall: It comes in this ominous little vial.

Marshall: It looks incredible, right?

Marshall: But it's an extract.

Marshall: It's way too hot for me to eat.

Marshall: It's not the kind of thing anybody would just buy off a shelf and suddenly throw in one drop of it in a pot of chili will set that thing on fire.

Marshall: But I think that's an example of how sometimes brilliantly, some hot sauces have had these great lights because of how they've set themselves apart on the shelf.

Ifoma: So true.

Ifoma: I remember as a hot sauce lover back in the day, I used to buy Dantes Inferno.

Ifoma: Remember that?

Ifoma: Yes.

Ifoma: And the logo, the label is phenomenal.

Ifoma: The hot sauce.

Ifoma: I think it was okay, but by today's standards, probably not.

Speaker UNK: Right.

Ifoma: I think it was probably more vinegary, more white peppery.

Ifoma: It probably wouldn't stand up today.

Ifoma: But it's also interesting how our flavor profiles and palates have changed and evolved over the years as well.

Marshall: And what's your connection to Trinidad these days?

Ifoma: I still have a lot of family there.

Ifoma: I still have a lot of family there.

Ifoma: My mom has a place there.

Ifoma: And when it's not a pandemic, I try to be there at least every other year.

Ifoma: So I started going back.

Ifoma: I was born there in a number of years ago.

Sara: We could do the math.

Sara: You mentioned something earlier.

Sara: Don't worry.

Ifoma: We're older and left when I emigrated when I was four.

Ifoma: And I've probably been back, I would say about a dozen times since then, more recently, because it became really important for me and my kids to have a connection with Trinidad.

Ifoma: And so I started bringing them, and they absolutely love it.

Ifoma: And so as soon as travel restrictions are lifted, we will 100% be hopping on a plane and spending some time in Trinidad because the family connection there is incredibly important.

Ifoma: The land is beautiful, the people are lovely, the food is amazing.

Ifoma: And every time I go, I try to go as a tourist and try to experience different parts of the island that I never had before.

Ifoma: And so I'm just super excited for our next adventure to go.

Marshall: I want to ask you about the cuisine of Trinidad.

Marshall: The reason is because sometimes I hear the term Caribbean cuisine.

Marshall: I think that's an odd thing to say because Jamaican food is very different to Cuban food, which is very different to food in Barbados.

Marshall: Right.

Marshall: So what can you tell us about the food culture?

Marshall: Yeah, Trinidad cuisine.

Ifoma: So the food culture of Trinidad cuisine, I would say, is really a melting pot.

Ifoma: So if you take a look back at the history of Trinidad, it was governed at one point by the French, governed at one point by the Spanish.

Ifoma: Given its proximity to South America has a huge Latin influence as well.

Ifoma: In fact, my grandmother is from Venezuela and from the Southern tip of Trinidad, Lebre, you can actually see Venezuela.

Ifoma: There's also a huge French component to it, as well as a huge Englishukheritage as well, not to mention Chinese, African, Syrian and East Indian.

Ifoma: When you take all those cultures together, what you have is a variety of really interesting dishes that can span all those geographic regions.

Ifoma: And so one of the most popular dishes in Trinidad is roti, right.

Ifoma: Curry chicken and roti and roti.

Ifoma: If you don't know what it is, it's kind of like a flat bread, almost like a crepe that is stuffed or a burrito that is stuffed with Curry chicken or goat or lamb or beef or shrimp, whatever.

Ifoma: Meat, protein, along with a starch and a lovely gravy.

Ifoma: And it is phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal.

Ifoma: But I would say for the most part, Indian influence, Chinese influence, but also very Latin and African influence.

Sara: And how does Trinidad sort of influence, aside from the family recipes that you would have learned growing up?

Sara: Like, how does that cuisine or environment or flora or people, how does that influence your creativity when it comes to creating these sauces?

Ifoma: It influences my creativity in the memories that I have, the memories that I have.

Ifoma: And even immigrating at four years old, I still fondly remember Trinidad visiting as a young adult or even as an adult.

Ifoma: A lot of those memories are steeped in music.

Ifoma: They're steeped in food, they're steeped in family.

Ifoma: And so even the names of the hot sauces, Soca and Calypso, those are two Trinidadian genres of music.

Ifoma: Right.

Ifoma: The food always food first and then being able to share that with others, the family aspect, the friends aspect, very important as well.

Ifoma: So even though it's not on your nose and it's not flagged or tagged as Trinidadian sauce, that link to that cultural heritage is always, always there.

Marshall: Can you reflect for us on this life you've made for yourself?

Marshall: I think it's so amazing, the idea of working towards getting to a point where you can do something like make a hot sauce, have the freedom, have the knowledge how to do it and do it well.

Marshall: It's like it must be like putting a big puzzle together.

Marshall: I think of it sometimes and you get to that point and you're able to do that.

Marshall: Can you reflect on that?

Sara: And the super important day job, too?

Sara: You could talk about that.

Ifoma: I was actually thinking about this exact topic the other day, Marshall.

Ifoma: So again, growing up with a single mom, growing up with not really having a lot of means, but having a lot of love and a lot of family.

Ifoma: And then looking at the life that I've been blessed to build with lovely kids, lovely partner, great job, great opportunity, and then being able to connect with the community and share that and give that back in a certain way has made me feel super grateful.

Ifoma: It has made me really grateful when I moved here in 2007, when I moved to Kitchener-Waterloo in 2007, at the time, we didn't know anyone, so moved from Ottawa to Kitchener-Waterloo.

Ifoma: And if I'm being totally honest, I wasn't a huge fan of the community just because we didn't have that social network in place.

Ifoma: And so I found myself going back to Ottawa on a regular basis, going to cities like Toronto on a regular basis just for that familiarity.

Ifoma: But having been here for over twelve years, over almost 15 years now, what I love about Kitchener-Waterloo is the sense of community and there's, quite honestly, there's no place I'd rather be.

Ifoma: There's no place I'd rather raise a family, there's no place I'd rather work and live and have connections like this connection.

Ifoma: It's super interesting how a little kid from Trinidad ended up here working for a phenomenal software company and then doing some fun things with hot sauce and you've got to share that with others.

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