IT WAS around this time last year that Fergus Chamberlain found himself in the rolling verdant mountains of south-west Mexico.
In his quest to buck the trend of westernising Mexican cuisine, and instead create an authentic Mexican cooking sauce, the Holland Park resident decided to seek inspiration in the best place possible.
So he spent the days with the scorching sun on his back picking rare chillies alongside native Mixe farmers, who taught him their traditional methods of cultivation.
The 30-year-old said: “More and more people love chillies and spice, maybe because people love the Indian sub-heritage, but everybody loves chilli, and having that kick.
“I wanted something that was really good quality, authentic and could be used in kitchens.
“There are already a lot of chilli sauces, there’s a big range but not much choice because the ingredients are the same – chillies and vinegar.
“I wanted something that was different. I knew what I didn’t want and that was a typical hot sauce.
“As I was doing my research I discovered that Mexico was the first place in the world that grew chillies.
“It’s the home of chillies, they eat chilli with everything but over there it’s about flavour, not just heat.”
It was not long into his five-week trip to the remote farms of the Oaxaca region that he decided he wanted to create a traditional chilli salsita paste.
After observing farmers smoke the chillies over an oak fire and then grind them into a paste, he knew he wanted to copy this process and taste and bring it to European shores.
He said: “The Mixe farmers still speak a form of pre-Spanish and it’s the first time they’ve ever sold the crop commercially.
“Their existence, which is quite foreign to us westerners, is like a fight against nature, living in these inaccessible mountains, but the result of that fight is these beautiful chillies.
“It’s a traditional Oaxacan recipe which has been adapted for European tastes, so a little less hot.
“It took quite a long time to tweak and balance. When you’re working with chillies, once you’ve tasted it you can’t taste again for about another hour as you wait for your palette to be cleansed.
“I was working with a great kitchen and workshop called Cocina Oaxaca and we had the final recipe done by October and then Gran Luchito launched in November.”
Armed with only 400 jars of his new authentic paste he hit the streets and started to spread the salsita seed, handing out samples to small independent traders and markets.
The feedback was positive and now, three months later, he has just imported 4,000 more jars, with samples in the hands of buyers at Harvey Nichols, Selfridges and Marks and Spencer.
Aside from his team on the other side of the Atlantic, Fergus runs Gran Luchito with the help of one intern, from a small office in Park Royal.
It is a promising start but integrity means everything to Fergus, and he is keen on taking things slowly.
Having trained as a chef in world class kitchens in New York and France, he is focusing on telling people about the product and how best to use it so they can have that delicious culinary experience.
On his website there are recipe cards and, because of the versatility of salsita, he claims that the ‘only limit to Gran Luchito, is your imagination’.
But what do those Mixe farmers make of it all?
“I took the sauce to them,” said Fergus, “but I don’t think they know what to make of me. The fact that they were eating it out of jar seemed to confuse them as they make it to eat and trade at market.
“But they enjoyed it.”
n For more information visit http://gran.luchito.co.uk.