Thursday, July 16, 2015

Shellie Mierwald - Sweet Heat Gourmet

Pin It Interview with Shellie Mierwald of Sweet Heat Gourmet

Shellie Mierwald, Sweet Heat Gourmet (Photo used with permission.)

Meet Shellie Mierwald. Chile head, owner and recipe guru of Sweet Heat Gourmet, Shellie is the first interview for Two Frys featuring women proprietors of the Hot Sauce industry.

Shellie, what has Sweet Heat Gourmet been up to this summer? We're back at our local farmers market working with our local farmers and getting fresh ingredients for our sauces. Our Strawbango Hot Sauce did really well this year and was sold out in 2 weeks! We're also gearing up for the Great Fiery Foods Show in Chicago this August, and the Bowers Chile Pepper Festival, of course.

Allen told me you recently won an award. Which award was it and for what sauce? Congrats. Thanks so much! The last award we won was a golden chile at Zest Fest, we won for best fruit based hot sauce with our Pineapple and Ghost Pepper Hot Sauce. We also came in second with our Apple Bourbon BBQ Sauce, and won a 2nd place Scovie with Bulgogi Asian BBQ Sauce. Also, Al "Buddah" from I Love It Spicy gave us a Lenny for "Green Sauce of the Year" for our Roasted JalapeƱo Hot Sauce.

Wow, you have recently won a great amount of awards and recognition from the Hot Sauce industry. It is much deserved and Allen and I love all the hot sauces we have tried from Sweet Heat Gourmet. Are you currently offering any specialty sauces this summer? If so, which ones? I made a Spiced Strawberry Chocolate Fudge Sauce with strawberries from Bee Tree Farm that's been selling really well. I might try adding different fruits to this sauce.

Shellie and David Mierwald, Sweet Heat Gourmet at the 2015 NYC Hot Sauce Expo
Are you working on new hot sauce and/or BBQ sauce recipes. If so, can you give the readers insight into what you are concocting? I have some beautiful raspberries from Bee Tree I'm thinking of turning into a hot sauce, and bringing back my Grilled Peach BBQ Sauce made with peaches from Orchard Hill Farms.

Can you give me some background on what influenced you to start your own hot sauce company and when it came together? Like a lot of companies, I had started out making sauces with local ingredients for friends and family who kept saying "you should sell these!" I had graduated from culinary school in 2011 after being a stay at home Mom, and didn't want to work in a kitchen 90 hours a week away from my family. So one day I started looking into starting my own sauce business and before long Sweet Heat Gourmet was born in 2012.

Are you trained as a chef? You share a lot of wonderful food recipes on your Facebook page. Yes I am! Many moons ago, I got a job as a prep cook in an upscale restaurant in Connecticut. I worked my way up through the ranks and one night the head chef threw a fit and quit in the middle of the shift. So I took over and was running the kitchen when I was 19. I got away from culinary when I had a family, I worked to put my husband through college. I knew I'd find my way back to the kitchen and did when I started at Penn College in Williamsport, PA in 2008.

Shellie (Sweet Heat Gourmet) and Allen (Two Frys) at the 2014 NYC Hot Sauce Expo
How many farmers markets supply you with the peppers you use and the other ingredients such as the fruits used in the fruit based hot sauces? Right now I source my ingredients from 2 local farmers markets in State College (PA), and our hot peppers come from Meadow View Farm in Kutztown. One of our good friends from Clan Stewart Farm are growing a lot of hot peppers for us this year.

What is your favorite pepper and why? My favorite pepper is the Fatalii. I think it has a fantastic heat that's not overwhelming and a nice citrus flavor. I love using fresh lime juice to bring out the citrus flavor in the pepper.

Do you feel more women own hot sauce companies these days? Yes I actually do! There's a woman here in State College that makes spicy jellies and jams that was a huge help starting my business, Janet Robinson who owns Pipers Peck. She goes to Bowers as well. And I've talked to a few other women who started their companies, Therese Baron of Baron's International Kitchen, and Amy Beck from iBurn.com had been a huge help as well. It's a nice, supportive network. I've also enjoyed conversations with Lisa Derr and Kat Walsh from Bigfat's. Stephanie Lowenstein from Red Hawk Premium Peppers is also a good friend.

Can you pick one favorite hot sauce and BBQ sauce from the Sweet Heat Gourmet line? My favorite hot sauce is the Sinclair's Fatalii Hot Sauce, and for BBQ sauces it's our Bulgogi Asian BBQ Sauce.

Which hot sauce is your top best seller? Definitely the Pineapple and Ghost Pepper, but the Key Lime Pear is gaining popularity.

Some products from Sweet Heat Gourmet from the 2015 NYC Hot Sauce Expo
We plan to cook with the Key Lime Pear Hot Sauce soon. Shellie, what role does your husband have in the company? I remember you told me at the NYC Hot Sauce Expo that he redesigned all the labels. He's a fantastic support for me. He helps when he can, he has a full time job as a software engineer. He did redesign the labels and it was quite a task! He also designs and runs the website, and he makes and bottles our 3 hottest sauces. I wouldn't be where I'm at without his support and encouragement.

It is great to have support from your husband. Shellie, do you feel there are too many hot sauce companies out there? No not at all! I love seeing what the small batch hot sauce companies bring to the table. It's such a fantastic community. I've gotten a lot of support and advice from hot sauce makers like Cajohn Hard, John Dilley, Chris Cullen, Ed Currie, Scott Zalkind, Eyal Goldshmid, James Beck, Al Goldenberg, and on and on and on. I try to live with a pay it forward attitude and help others when I can. I love the chile head community.

It is great to have that kind of support from your fellow chile heads. Which do you prefer, doing weekend markets or hot sauce expos, and which sells more product? I love them both equally. I love being connected to my community, but attending shows like the NYC Hot Sauce Expo are like pure highs. And not to mention it's like a big reunion getting to see people such as you and Allen, (Aw, thanks) Brian and Marilyn Meagher, etc. It's just a ton of fun!

Meet Your Farmers. Sweet Heat Gourmet. (Photo used with permission.)
What advice can you give to women who want to start their own business and may be hesitating? There will never be the "perfect" time. Just go for it! Just take your time and explore your options. Ask questions, there are a lot of people who would be happy to help! (My email is shgourmet@gmail.com) It's worth taking the risk! Just go for it.

To learn more about about Sweet Heat Gourmet and to order their products, please visit: http://www.sweetheatgourmet.com/

-Sophia/Two Frys

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