Homegrown Heroes: Ambika Rajgopal, founder of Haute Sauce
FACT catches up with Ambika Rajgopal, the founder of artisanal condiment brand Haute Sauce, to discuss ingredients, Dubai collaborations, the world’s hottest chilli, and precisely what it is that makes the perfect hot sauce.
Founded by Ambika Rajgopal, Haute Sauce is a Dubai-based artisanal range of hot sauces made from fresh ingredients. Haute Sauce was founded in 2019 when Ambika discovered a shortage of good-quality natural hot sauces in the market and decided to remedy the situation by making her own range. The inception of the brand came about rather incidentally, as Amibka tells FACT:
“I had nothing to do with the F&B industry prior to starting Haute Sauce in 2019. It started completely incidentally – due to me being unable to find a preservative-free hot sauce to my liking in the market. I was therefore compelled to make my own hot sauce. Initially, it was just for me and from there, it just grew. I gave it to some friends, who gave it to their friends and before I knew it, I was getting orders. People were really happy to find a locally produced hot sauce that was super hot and flavourful and we were met with very encouraging feedback. After that, it just felt natural to expand our product range and diversify.”
Ambika only makes small batches of Haute Sauce at a time and the artisan sauces are natural, vegan, gluten-free, and preservative-free, which can provide for a challenging production process:
“Having natural products that have no preservatives does have its limitations. The major one being shelf life. But this is a very small price to pay for natural, fresh products. I’d rather make something where every single ingredient is traceable than produce something with a long shelf life but loaded with preservatives. Having said that, the UAE has a growing base of people who are conscious of what they eat and prefer natural products with clean ingredients.” Ambika explains.
When it comes to the sourcing of ingredients and ensuring consistency across her small-batch products, it comes down to the quality of the produce:
“We take a lot of pride in the peppers that we use. They come from all over the world. Our Habaneros come from the Netherlands, our Bird’s Eye chillies from Thailand, and our Ghost Peppers from a remote corner in India’s North East. We have a master recipe that we follow stringently. It’s tough with peppers to predict the exact heat level, as no two peppers taste the same – the flavour, heat level, and colour will vary. But we are very transparent about this.”
Ambika has also just released a new hot sauce, Haunting, made out of the aforementioned ghost peppers. It’s the first and only artisanal sauce made in the UAE with this fiery pepper, considered to be the spiciest purebred chilli in the world.
While the ghost chillies used for Haunting come from Northeast India, Ambika is very conscious about sourcing locally where she can:
“Since we are a small homegrown business, we would love to use locally grown peppers. We’ve been in close conversation with some farmers regarding growing super-hot peppers. Of course, consistency in quality and year-round supply would be essential.
I love playing with new peppers. Even though I’ve tried so many super hot peppers like Trinidad Moruga Scorpion and Carolina Reapers. The pepper that stayed with me was the ghost pepper. It has a natural smokiness and an unassuming sweetness that throws you off completely. The burn is slow, deep, and lingering – I love it. The chillies we use are so special to me and I waited a year for them. Due to COVID restrictions, shipping them was not possible. But for me, it was worth waiting a whole year rather than use flavourless ghost chillies bought online.”
Currently, Ambika’s Haute Sauces come in four different flavours – Haunting (Ghost Peppers), Original (Habanero and Coriander), Mellowing (Bird’s Eye Chillies), and the limited-edition Puckering (Habanero and Raw Mango). When it comes to the recipes, Ambika talks us through her culinary process:
“The recipes are 100% mine. Each recipe has taken months to perfect – after trying and testing multiple batches of sauce before I came up with a version that I was happy with.
I come from a family of ardent and passionate cooks and foodies. My grandmother even wrote a cookbook at the age of 83, so this keen interest in understanding flavour comes naturally. Cooking is not just throwing things together and hoping they’ll work out. There’s a lot of technique and nuances to making tastes come together. That took me some time to figure out. I messed up so many times before I could say – this is a hot sauce I want to eat with my food. But I also think understanding flavours is very inherent – it’s something that you develop a feel for.”
Because every batch of Haute Sauce is made fresh to order, the product’s freshness has to be maintained throughout the process. Ambika ensures this through a variety of procedures:
“Attention to detail, artisanal, small batch – these aren’t just buzzwords to us, but words that we completely stand by. One of the first steps we take to ensure freshness is to make only small batches at a time. This allows us to make fresh batches of sauce and ensure the highest quality is maintained. It also allows us to minimise wastage.”
Haute Sauce has already collaborated with a number of restaurants in Dubai. Mellowing is one of the key ingredients featured in the vegan charred mushroom and pineapple ceviche at Akira Back Dubai. While the Original Haute Sauce is a component of the Haute Wing challenge at the Blacksmith Bar and Eatery. As the brand contuse to grow, Ambika remains open to strategic collaborations, telling FACT:
“This is definitely something we’re interested in. We have quite a few things up our sleeve that we can’t wait to share with everyone.”
Since its inception a little over a year ago, Haute Sauce has garnered somewhat of a cult following with Dubai foodies, who have embraced the product with enthusiasm:
“I think our sauces deliver on heat and flavour. They’re also incredibly versatile because they can be used on anything. We’ve had people using it in stews, soups, eggs, pasta, curries, tajines, meat, ceviche. The list is endless. One even used it in her chocolate brownie. Since our spice levels vary, there’s a Haute Sauce for everyone. Each Haute Sauce has a very loyal following. It would be very hard for me to pick the one sauce that does the best.”
We finish our chat with Ambika by asking her exactly what she believes makes a good hot sauce:
“I have always maintained that a good hot sauce needs to have a good balance of spice and flavour. I have seen so many novelty hot sauces that are ridiculously spicy with no flavour whatsoever. I’ve also seen many allegedly hot sauces that are flavourful but don’t deliver on heat, so balance is key.”
GO: Visit https://hautesaucery.com for more information.