Columbia is known for being "famously hot," and Meet Your Cremator is bringing more heat to the city. With 12 sauces to choose from, watch out for silly siblings and dad jokes when offered a taste — you just might get punked into meeting your cremator.
With a farm of over 40 peppers of various colors and a homemade tiny house, you can expect this Columbia-grown hot sauce to be something special.
Owner Diane Gilbert and retired chef from Rosewood Market Benoit St. Jacques teamed up in the Carolinas to become a "well-oiled machine" and make the community a little hotter than just the weather.
Gilbert and St. Jacques went to high school together in Quebec, but it wasn't until the late '90s when they reconvened over peppers, flavors and what came to be an art of their own.
“The hot sauce came from — it’s kind of like an accident,” St. Jacques said.
Gilbert had made a "mash," or hot sauce, for a friend, which St. Jacques found potential for in the kitchen. From there, the experimentation and fun began.
Gilbert said they started doing markets "solely for fun," but they found a sense of family; nice, supportive people; and enjoyment in that contact. According to St. Jacques, the pair started mainly at Soda City, though they now visit other markets, too.
Living on an 11 acre farm became quiet during the pandemic. While markets were closed due to COVID-19 measures, Gilbert said she "really missed [her] market family," especially at Soda City.
Some passersby of the stand, at first glance, might notice the vibrant colors of the sauce, the ceramic mug faces or simply the name.
But the cremators keep humble their three-year streak of winning national hot pepper awards in New York City during the 10th, 11th and 12th annual competition hosted by The Hot Pepper. It has helped bring their sauce to almost every state and abroad.
“We won in the fruit-based with the kiwi lime and cilantro, we won in the extra hot with the original and then we won in the Verdi style, avocado tomatillo,” St. Jacques said. “I think their criteria is, it’s got to be unique. It’s got to have the combination of a good flavor, and they have to be hot, naturally.”
The mash starts with the process of fermentation, which, for many commercial hot sauces, is where basic ingredients are combined, filtered and, voila, Tabasco.
“For us, [fermentation is] actually the first part in our start,” St. Jacques said.
He then blends secret spices, lime zest, juices and herbs.
“I add to each one of them to make them, given the personality that they each have,” St. Jacques said. “I also base my recipes on the color of the peppers.”
The colors are important, Gilbert said. The fresh ingredients create a bright coloration and aid to the heat release of the pepper. The hue of the sauce depends on the pepper family and a balance of the elements.
Combining red, yellow, orange or green peppers with other fixings can be tricky to avoid a "nugget of color." But brown doesn’t always mean something went wrong. The duo features a brown chocolate sauce during the winter season that is perfect on a hot brownie. They also feature a blue hued blueberry glaze hot sauce they recommend on ice cream.
These specialty glazes are inspired from the American West because they "put heat on everything," St. Jacques said.
St. Jacques and Gilbert have a suggestion for every color and sauce, from chicken, tofu, eggs or a sandwich to salad, steamed veggies, grits and even your desert. For customers looking for a principal scorcher, try the award-winning original. The original is the pioneer of the collection and where the duo’s namesake comes from, as it was initially named “Meet Your Cremator.”
The line of 12 sauces can be found at markets accompanied by Gilbert's artwork. She creates a variety of ceramic mugs, most of which include a face.
“Sometimes I try to make something precise, sometime I just let my hand do what they want,” Gilbert said.
She said she looks for a nice expression or facial hair.
“Sometimes she will just say, ‘Can I take your pictures? You have a very interesting nose,’” St. Jacques said.
Their market presence is friendly and a source of support for the team. The community notices the special presence of the pair on Saturdays, as well.
Second-year fashion merchandising and retailing student Carlin Collier said the pottery drew her and her family's eyes.
The flavor came next.
“[The hot sauces] are really good. They’re different than, like, any other hot sauce I’ve had,” Collier said. “I feel like a lot of them have fruits in them, and I feel like that is unusual.”
Unusual, maybe, but a flavor that won't be forgotten, whether that means the zestful aroma remaining on your taste buds, like the long lasting Carolina bird pepper, or you leave with a new favorite sauce for your dishes.
Meet Your Cremator hot sauce brings the essence of heat to a flavorful level in Columbia. Find your mash of choice at Soda City Market on any given Saturday or online to give your taste buds a kick, and try a blend of Carolina grown peppers.