The trail is heating up for three Whanganui blokes saddling up for the next leg of their journey.
Frank Bristol, Alex Loggie and Paul Anderson are trading at Tres Hombres Hot Stuff and their chilli-based sauces and relishes are gaining favour in the public arena.
All three work in mental health and have been mates for a wee while, but the real journey began about 18 months ago when Loggie was encouraged to take his homemade sauces and relishes to another level.
Bristol has long been involved in farming, particularly horticulture, as a vegetable grower and producer of various seedlings for market, while Anderson has an operational olive grove near Kaiwhaiki producing Patria olive oil. There horticultural knowledge was a crucial ingredient.
Bristol had virtually shutdown operations on his Papaiti block leaving his greenhouses empty after wife Joy became ill. A few months after Joy passed away Loggie and Anderson came to Bristol with an idea to reboot operations in his greenhouses, partly as a way of helping their mate deal with the grief.
More than 800 chilli plants were initially grown in Bristol's greenhouse in Papaiti and production began in his kitchen that had been fully certified.
"When Joy became ill we pretty much stopped our growing operations at home in Papaiti and the greenhouses lay empty until Alex and Paul came knocking," Bristol said.
"We planted around 800 chilli initially, about seven varieties. I'd never grown chilli before, so it was a learning curve. I have always liked watching things grow and while I was only away from it for a little over a year, it is nice to be back growing. We have around 2000 plants now and eight different varieties.
"We have done the market research through selling Tres Hombres Hot Stuff at the Whanganui River Markets and various other outlets and the feedback has been strongly in favour of what we are doing," Bristol said.
Loggie said recipes for Tres Hombres sauces and relishes were almost limitless and numerous base ingredients had been used with many more yet to be tried.
Some of the initial batches included Monty's Surprise apples grown in Whanganui.
The variety was discovered by Whanganui heritage food researcher Mark Christensen, who found it had health-giving properties. With help from supporters he grew and distributed thousands of the trees.
When Christensen wanted more powdered extract from the apples for his research, Bristol planted an orchard of 300 of the trees on at Papaiti. They are not certified organic, but have never been sprayed or manured.
"It's a very robust tree. It gets good crops with no chemicals applied," Bristol said.
Christensen is still in the the picture with the Tres Hombres operation.
Fruit is the base for many of the recipes and pears sourced from Richard Austin's Blueskin Rd orchard are also being used. Oranges, lime, kiwifruit and of course, tomato are other obvious flavours to add to the mix.
"The trick is to make a sauce that is full of flavour and has heat from the chilli. Finding that balance is key. Harvesting the chilli is also crucial to flavour. Picking at different times of their growth has an impact on flavour. There is about a 90 day turnaround from planting to harvest usually. There is a world of difference between what you find on the supermarket shelf and our chilli sauce. There are no additives in our recipes for a start. Our ethos is to use fresh, local produce for everything we make. In fact, the apple cider vinegar from Frank's apples is used in all our recipes," Loggie said.
"We have just formed a relationship with Brew Union in Palmerston North. Brew Union is a craft beer brewery that has a really good kitchen that knocks up great food. We are just about to start our first production for them and we will be looking at beer-based sauces. The feedback we have had and the almost unlimited range in flavours makes this venture very exciting indeed - just so many possibilities, including custom-made batches," Loggie said.