Secret sauce: how a family trip gave this foodie a hot new recipe for life

Paid for by American Express

Growing up, Kapana Jackson was always surrounded by food.

One of her earliest memories of childhood is sitting by the stove, watching her mum and grandmother make magic in the kitchen, preparing classic Guyanese meals like roti, curry, pholourie and rice. Little did she know that by her late 30s, one of her family recipes would be loved by thousands of people across the UK and beyond.

Although there are many dishes that Kapana relates back to her younger years, there’s one item in particular that always brings a smile to her face: her grandmother Chandra Persaud’s hot sauce.

This sauce would end up changing her life forever - giving her much more than she could have ever imagined.

We’ve partnered with American Express to celebrate moments when life takes you by surprise and things turn out better than you had expected and here’s Kapana’s story.

A passion for food

“In my family, we show affection by feeding people,” says the 37-year-old, who was born in Canada but now lives in Wendover, Buckinghamshire, with her husband, Ben Jackson and their 10-year-old son, Thomas.

“Cooking has always been a massive part of my life and my mum and grandmother have taught me everything they know.

“I can still see myself as a child, rolling rotis or chopping onions with tears running down my face.

“Every time I visit my family in Canada, they shove things into my suitcase – treats and other things.

“In 2021, my grandmother had grown a big batch of wiri wiri peppers and made fresh hot sauce for me to bring back to the UK.

“Soon after being back home, I had people over for a BBQ and one of my husband’s friends asked for hot sauce to use on the meat.

Credit: Kapana Jackson
Credit: Kapana Jackson

“I opened the fridge, saw the bottle my gran had given me and told him he was in for a treat.”

The spicy liquid is unlike any other, made from the wiri wiri pepper, a chilli that originates in Guyana and is very difficult to grow in colder climates. Kapana describes the flavour as fruity with a distinct taste.

As for its strength on the Scoville scale – the measurement system for chilli heat – it’s hot, but won’t blow your socks off.

The sauce with added value

The guests were amazed by the unique sauce.

“Everyone at the table was blown away and I jokingly said ‘maybe I should sell it’ – to which they replied with a resounding ‘yes!’,” Kapana says.

“That’s when I knew I had something special on my hands. Although I already loved it, I realised there was more value in my grandmother’s sauce than I’d ever imagined.”

The positive reaction to the product stuck with the mum, who couldn’t stop thinking about how to share her Guyanese heritage with more people in the UK.

A former food stylist and producer, Kapana already had a good grasp of the food industry. After weeks of research and experimentation, including trying countless hot sauces from other brands, she decided to launch her product: Grandma’s Hot Sauce.

Credit: Kapana Jackson
Credit: Kapana Jackson

To show her love for the most important women in her life, she also used a photo of her mum Savitri and grandmother Chandra on the bottle. The image is particularly special as it’s from a trip the pair made to Niagara Falls when they first moved to Canada, before Kapana was born.

And it also represented the recent trip Kapana had taken to see her family.

“Being in lockdown gave me the time and headspace to implement my idea into reality,” says Kapana.

“Holding the first bottle in my hand was quite a proud moment because sharing this sauce isn’t just sharing my heritage, it’s a piece of me and the flavours I was used to growing up.

“And literally every single dish has the wiri wiri pepper in it. Being able to share that here in the UK is incredibly exciting.”

Sharing their passion for food

When Kapana rang her grandmother to reveal that her sauce had been picked up by two independent shops, the 89-year-old was delighted.

She says: “My grandmother is a self-trained chef who has cooked from the age of 10, making food for her 12 siblings!

“I went back to Canada recently and she told me to bring a bottle so that she could take photos with it and share it with her family and friends.”

A few months later, Grandma’s Hot Sauce was available to buy in local UK delis and Kapana was approached by a leading British department store, which now stocks the product.

“It’s been a surreal year,” says the mum.

“Grandma’s Hot Sauce is pretty much exactly like my grandmother’s recipe with cucumber, lime juice, garlic and some carrots to sweeten the batch.

“I didn’t change the original version too much because I want people to have the same experience that I do every time I eat it.”

Kapana is also looking forward to sharing the sauce and cooking traditions with her own son.

“Thomas is always in the kitchen with me,” she says.

“I’d love for him to learn more about Guyanese flavours and he’s very interested in it.

“He’s still getting used to the strength of the hot sauce though!”

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