Food News

Kick Start South Florida: Miami's Michael Diaz and his PepperJelly Sriracha

Kick Start South Florida is a new feature highlighting local foodies and food-related projects on Kickstarter from Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade. Clean Plate Charlie will profile them here to support and promote food-related crowd-funded projects in South Florida. Spread the word. Share the love.

The best recipes are usually family recipes, "secret" ingredient combinations passed down generation from generation. They're masterpieces made by relatives that measure according to dashes and pinches rather than easy-to-record tablespoons and teaspoons.

These recipes are easy to love -- but not always easy to replicate. That's especially true for Michael Diaz, who says his grandfather made one simply amazing hot sauce. It didn't matter that Diaz's grandfather was Cuban, either. According to the Miami resident, the Latin-inspired flavors in his sriracha-style hot sauce made it one of the best you'll ever taste.

Sriracha is a type of hot sauce made of chili peppers, distilled vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt. It's thought to be named after the coastal city of Si Racha in Thailand, where it was first made as a dipping sauce to accompany the area's plentiful seafood dishes. Although sriracha is thought of as hot sauce, traditional Thai sriracha is tangier, sweeter and thinner than those you'll find here.

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In fact, Diaz loved his grandfather's special hot sauce so much he decided to honor him by recreating the recipe, developing a company he's dubbed PepperJelly, which will specialize in small-batch, Cuban-style sriracha. To do so, he's enlisted the help of Kickstarter, the popular crowd-funding website that helps people raise money for creative projects. 

"PepperJelly began as a way to recreate my grandfather's sriracha, and it really is one amazing hot sauce. The only thing I didn't know, however, was that he originally used a store-bought hots sauce to make it," Diaz told Clean Plate Charlie during a recent interview. 

After a little digging, he discovered why: the pre-made hot sauce was used as a short-cut, in a way, for its preservatives.

"Regardless, I decided I would make his hot sauce from scratch, using all-natural ingredients, along with a few of my own tweaks," said Diaz.

Those tweaks include a specialty blend of spices that make up his grandfather's Cuban mojo base, as well as Seville (sour or bitter) oranges, roasted garlic, vinegars and three different types of hot peppers. In addition to his regular Cuban-style sriracha, Diaz also makes what he calls "The Cuban Ghost" -- a spicier version for those who like it extra-hot. To make it he uses Naga Bhut Jolokia, or ghost peppers, a chili pepper previously recognized by Guinness World Records as the hottest pepper in the world. 

Both versions are made with high-quality ingredients, said Diaz, who sources all his produce from local purveyors at the farmer's market in Brickell. He currently makes PepperJelly using a 5-gallon drum, fermenting the sauce for 15 to 21 days before bottling it. Diaz hopes to expand to 20-gallon drums that will allow him to make a first-run production, and eventually plans on barrel-aging small-run batches. A 12-ounce bottle will sell for $6.99 on the PepperJelly website, and could one day be found on the shelves of local grocers like Whole Foods and Publix.

An engineer by trade, this will be Diaz's third attempt at Kickstarting his sriracha hot sauce product into action. The first time he tried for a goal of $25,000; the second for $15,000. The bare minimum he needs to expand production is $5,000, which would allow him to buy the equipment he needs, obtain the proper product licensing and quality control testing, and find a commercial kitchen to produce and bottle the product.

"It's a very delicious Cuban-style sriracha that's bold, flavorful -- and isn't too hot. It's not overpowering," said Diaz. "And I can't wait to share it with the world. They say the third time is the charm. Let's just say I'm an optimist."

For more information, visit the Pepper Jelly website and Michael Diaz's Kickstarter page.

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Nicole Danna is a Palm Beach County-based reporter who began covering the South Florida food scene for New Times in 2011. She also loves drinking beer and writing about the area's growing craft beer community.
Contact: Nicole Danna