The Life of Spice

Primonition and Primo’s Peppers

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Troy and Kara are the duo behind Primo’s Peppers, creators of the 7 Pot Primo pepper and Primonition, a new verde style hot sauce made using La Boîte spices.

© Romero & Romero Photography

We’re excited to talk with you as you’re the first hot sauce maker we’ve supplied spices to. What had you choose us?

Several years ago my wife and I had the pleasure of meeting Lior here in Lafayette, Louisiana. In the 11th hour, our friend Toby Rodriguez (Lache Pas Boucherie, “Cajun Country” No Reservations, “Mardi Gras” Parts Unknown, etc.) asked if he could bring thirteen or so folks and a film crew to our backyard for a pepper garden show and tell. You see, Toby is an absolute torchbearer for Cajun culture, and also somewhat of a Cajun matchmaker…he’s great at identifying the strengths, passions, and expertise of various “personalities” in Acadiana and sharing them with would be outsiders looking in. Since I’m known around here as the “local pepper aficionado,” I got pulled into the party…and the next day I ended up talking peppers and passion with a world famous Manhattan spice guru and executives from Tabasco and Popeyes Fried Chicken! Everyone hit it off….My wife and I were invited to the beautiful McIlhenny Avery Island Marsh House for dinner. The Popeyes folks were having a spice research and development retreat at this site. Toby and a few local friends cooked up some great Cajun-influenced chicken dishes…Louie and Andre Michot (Lost Bayou Ramblers) played Cajun classics on the fiddle and accordion…NOLA’s Poppy Tooker held court….the drinks flowed like the Mississippi!

With a mutual admiration and love for each other’s products and expertise, Lior and I have kept in touch ever since. Over the years we’ve sent our hot sauce and pepper jellies to New York, and he has sent his wonderful spice books, spice blends, and even a great Espelette pepper ristra from the Basque region….still one of the coolest gifts I’ve ever received. The short answer to your questions is: There is no one in our opinion that knows more about quality spices than La Boite…..Besides, when you know the folks running the company are also outstanding human beings, the choice for us is a simple one.

Tell us more about Primonition. Where did the idea come from and how is it an expression of your brand?

Well, I’m actually known for creating the “7 Pot Primo,” one of the hottest peppers in the world…..controversially the hottest pepper in the world. So, we felt that our first hot sauce release (The Swampadelic) should be something reflective of that 1.5 million Scoville creation! We simply got the “punk cred” out of the way. *laughs* Though the swamp sauce has since won many awards for its flavor and heat, it’s no surprise that a bottle would probably last the average consumer a year or more!

For our sophomore release, I relinquished the fire and brimstone and let my wife’s influence lead the way….The dichotomy of our relationship and company can be summed up like this: She’s the halo, and I’m the horns! I’m spicy and she’s rather sweet! It isn’t always easy for us to agree on the heat level of our products, but it’s easy for us to agree that flavor comes first. And since every hot sauce company should have a great green sauce in their portfolio, our idea was to make a Verde-style hot sauce that would not skimp on quality-sourced spices and ingredients, and also throttle back on the burn.

When it came to all our label art…We’ve always felt that every classic album also has an equally timeless album cover…strangely, doesn’t it seem to make the music sound better? Why should hot sauce be any different? As an homage to our deceased, two “sons of fur”- Reverb and Voodoo” we commissioned the great Jared Davis to create a velvet Elvis painting of a mystic cat fortuneteller. As a kid, I grew up with these roadside paintings and they’ve always appealed to me. And of course the name is a tongue-in-cheek play on the word premonition.

© Christian Leue

We’d love to know more about the 7 Pot Primo pepper, what’s the history of it?

For many years, I played music for with this southern psychedelic hard rocking band Santeria…..we put out several great albums and even ended up making Classic Rock magazine a few times…When our drummer was injured in a head-on collision with an 18-wheeler, everyone had to re-evaluate their life’s aspirations. Since I had met a “good girl” by then (becoming tired of the “bad ones”)…I wanted to make a change that supported my new domestic family life. I didn’t want to be out late, playing music in bars or recording studios…I thought, what’s totally rock-n-roll and can be done “legally” in your backyard? *laughs* What’s more rock-n-roll than hot peppers? But it wasn’t clear yet how I’d get there.

© Clay Judice Jr.

In 2005, that “good girl” grew tired of me sitting on her couch in my underwear drinking beer, and encouraged me to go back to school and pursue a college degree in nursing. It was there that I landed a job as a student aide at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Office of Renewable Resources, which at the time was home of the university’s horticulture program. Literally across the hall from Nadean Bienvenu, the secretary, were the offices of horticulturist Dr. Dennis Wollard and arborist/plant science professor Jim Foret. I spent all my free time picking their brains about plants.

Collecting seeds was similar to collecting bubblegum cards, and back then I was growing a multitude of varieties from all over the world in my little hand-tilled backyard garden. I was one of the first in the world to obtain and sell seeds of the Bangladeshi “Naga Morich” pepper, the precursor and regional phenotype of the later famous “Bhut Jolokia” aka “Ghost Pepper.” I had simply stumbled upon this guy from Dorset England, who was selling five sets for $40 each, funding the renewal of his website. At the time, nothing to my knowledge was more pungent! Nothing more rock-n-roll! I became the one person in North America to purchase a set; the other four were sold to growers in Europe. Needless to say, I was successful in propagating the plants and sold the resulting seeds for $4,000! This was incentive enough for me to change my major and let everyone in my family believe I was committing career suicide! *laughs* As great as I was as a nursing student, I never felt in my heart that it was my destiny. I was just going through the motions, all the while hoping that it would eventually click. Looking back, I now realize that it takes someone who is selfless to be a great nurse….someone able to take off that hat when you leave work and head home…. and I couldn’t easily take off that hat. I wore the hard emotions of my patients on my sleeve. The students with more passion for the profession (even if they didn’t have a great GPA) succeed. So in the end, I chose to follow my own passion….

Around this time, ULL Dr. Dennis Wollard gave me seeds obtained from an elderly woman in a Trinidadian market. This was the “7 Pot” pepper, rumored by islanders to heat seven pots of stew. Naively, I figured that if I cross-bred the Naga Morich with this 7 Pot, I would end up with something way hotter! With the help of my horticulture professors, I learned about pepper plant emasculation, the process of removing the male sex organs of a pepper plant and artificially inseminating the pollen from a donor. Yes, pepper plants have both male and female sexual organs. Though many in the pepper community still claim to create new varieties, the only way to quantitively assure you have crossbred a pepper plant is through rigorous scientific methodology. Otherwise, your parent plants could simply self-pollinate or be cross-pollinated by promiscuous insects.

What I ended up with was a vastly different pepper than both its parents. This round and warty pepper now had a distinct and long, stinger-like appendage, and stung with a pungency like no other! After a few years of growing my new pepper, I sold and traded these seeds to chile heads on the hotpepper.com forum. One pepper enthusiast dubbed it the “7-Pot Primo” after the moniker for my real Cajun birth name “Primeaux.” Though unstable at the time, the pepper was embraced by the pepper cultists and in a few years had circumnavigated the globe. These days it’s a stable variety used by a many hot sauce and spice companies. It’s also a pepper not without controversy. In 2011, a Carolina investment banker claimed to have cross-bred a strikingly similar pepper (The Reaper) and set forth the monetary necessities to obtain a Guinness Book Record. Though his story may have changed over the years, I can honestly say mine has stayed the same. I’m not sure if I would have done anything differently. Back then Kara and I were both students and didn’t have a lot of money….Maybe I should have pawned my guitars and used the thousands of dollars required to obtain a Guinness Award myself! *laughs*

Wow what a story! What are some of your favorite things to use Primonition on/in, and do you mind sharing a recipe?

Primonition is our go-to sauce with eggs, tacos, Mexican food, pizza, grilled seafood or meat….it’s even amazing on sushi. *laughs* The sauce is smoky, has a balanced acidity which is unlike many Verde-style sauces, and showcases a rich layer of herbs and spices. We’ve gotten into our profits with this one, as we probably go through a few bottles a week or more! Almost every Tuesday is Taco Tuesday here at house Primo. Here is one of our many recipes – Kara’s simple, turkey taco recipe that showcases Primonition and includes some spices from you. The added flavors truly elevate this everyday dish.

Primonition Turkey Tacos
1 lb ground turkey
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup diced yellow onion
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp Ararat N35
1 Tbsp Bluegrass N12
Hatch chili powders (optional and to taste, but great!)
1 tsp. salt
Taco shells
Toppings: shredded lettuce, tomatoes, grated cheddar cheese, sliced jalapenos (fresh), cilantro, sour cream or plain Greek yogurt and Primonition Verde Hot Sauce

Directions:
Season ground turkey with all dry ingredients and 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Heat a skillet to med-high heat. Pour in other 1 Tbsp olive oil. When oil is hot, add diced onions and cook until semi-transparent. Add sautéed garlic and cook until fragrant. Add seasoned ground turkey and sauté until browned and cooked thoroughly. Add water if needed to keep moist or prevent from burning.

Heat taco shells according to directions. Once warmed, assemble tacos by layering meat, lettuce, tomatoes, cheddar cheese, jalapenos, cilantro, sour cream and a generous amount of Primonition Verde Hot Sauce!!

Nice! And how did you get into peppers and hot sauce to begin with?

When I was growing up, my grandparents always had vegetable gardens….I spent a lot of time after school and on weekends with the “greatest generation” and listened attentively to stories of a time and place long gone from this world. My grandparents survived the great depression by living off the land. They fished, hunted, and grew their own vegetables. They made fig preserve sandwiches in rough times and cooked rice and gravy in good times. All while playing cards and dancing by candlelight. They made use of what they had and created their own happiness in what one would call a time of despair. This resiliency is something present throughout where we live in Southern Louisiana.

I come from a long line of storytellers, exceptional Cajun cooks, and backyard gardeners! *laughs* One of my favorite after school memories is helping my grandfather harvest in his garden…..jalapeños and banana peppers for the pickling jar….tomatoes and cucumbers for the salt and peppering…okra for the smothering…beans for the rice… cantaloupe for the desert… It definitely planted a seed in my psyche. Pun intended. *laughs*

Kara and I both have a similar upbringing when it comes to spices. The good old spice rack. The one your mom was probably gifted for Christmas or her birthday…..20 something spices and honest to God she probably only used 5…..salt, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, and black pepper! That said, as kids, we both explored those other 15 spices….I suppose we must have been strange kids by Cajun standards….each spice on a cracker…one at a time. We explored with open minds and still do to this day!

:). And who would you most like to cook dinner for, and what would you serve?

Kara here! My grandmother Mimi who is no longer with us. Throughout my childhood, I spent nearly every afternoon with this wonderful lady. Anytime I would walk into her small, itty-bitty kitchen she would have a pot simmering on the stove with a dark chocolate-colored roux or have delicately stuffed artichokes baking until golden brown. Some of my fondest memories of her were of cooking on weekends. Often, I would awaken to the rising smell of crispy bacon and buttered toast permeating to the second floor, enticing me to wake up and make my way downstairs to have my breakfast and coffee milk.

One dish that she was known for was her Crawfish Bisque. After a crawfish boil, she would hand-select the most prized crawfish shells for stuffing. This dish required two days of preparation- chopping vegetables, making the roux, and stuffing those precious crawdads. She embraced her time in the kitchen, adding a little of this and a little of that. Cooking was a pastime for her and a personal enjoyment. She rarely documented her recipes and sadly, this recipe is lost, although vivid in my memory. Likewise, I followed in her footsteps to feel at home in the kitchen.

Initially I did not write down the recipes for the Farmer’s Daughter Hot Pepper Jellies. Troy made it a point to not let these recipes slip away, as the bisque recipe had. If I had the opportunity once more, I would watch Mimi as she created this delectable dish, document the process from start to finish and try at re-creating it for her. It would bring me the most joy to serve Mimi the one dish that she served me many years over. My greatest pleasure would be to see her smile and say, “This is just perfect. I am so proud of you Kara Lynn.” All I can say is the connection between smells, memories, and food transcends time.

Three favorite spices and why?

Kara again! Coriander because it awakens all of my senses. When ground it smells of fresh orange peels and the room is filled with a magnificent perfume. It is the best complement to cumin in a dish.

Garlic which I can’t live without. Garlic is complex- it is pungent when raw, mellow and sweet when cooked and can even add spiciness to a dish. We cook with a lot of garlic and even eat it raw in a winter immune booster tea.

And of course peppers! Need I explain more?

What do you like most about your job?

I love the fact that I can envision and create something out of thin air. We produce it, sell it, and it brings people a lot of happiness. Seriously, the monetary portion of the equation just allows us to grow and do more of it all…

In the end…We’re all trying to postpone mortality…..if only for a moment. Kara and I don’t have any kids, not yet at least, so the “7 Pot Primo” is our baby. Hopefully, it will outlive us all!

Primonition, and other hot and exciting treats are available here.

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Primo’s Peppers

After many years of playing music in the hard rocking and hard partying southern-psychedelic band “Santeria,” Primo met a great girl, hung his boots on the wall, and decided to focus on something a little bit more conducive to a family lifestyle…

He pondered, “What’s got the reckless abandonment, mystery, and danger of rock n roll, but doesn’t involve spending late nights in a smoky bar?” To Primo, hot peppers were the assemblage of this and so much more… 

In 2005, while working at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Horticulture Department, Primo developed the “7 Pot Primo”, arguably (and controversially) the hottest pepper in the world! At an average face-melting 1.5 million Scoville heat units, one 7 Pot Primo pepper is 300 times hotter than a Jalapeño! Over the years, Primo’s pepper creations have gained worldwide notoriety and an international cult following.

In 2012, with a passion for heat and a dedication to preserving time-honored traditions, Primo and his wife, Kara, created Primo’s Peppers LLC.  Whereas she is the halo, he is the horns. Together their hot pepper products, made with quality, natural ingredients, are a complex combination of both sweet and heat. Thus far, the Primo’s have accumulated numerous peoples choice and industry awards for their ultra-hot, Cajun-inspired “Swampadelic Sauce”, the verde style “Primonition” hot sauce, and “The Farmer’s Daughter Hot Pepper Jellies.”

Look for new Primo products soon… The future is HOT!!!

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