A friendship and a partnership began nearly 30 years ago between Marie Sharp and Winston-Salem businessman Michael Touby in Belize.

“I consider Marie to be like a grandmother,” Touby said, speaking from the Specialty Food Association Food Show in New York, where he reconnected with Sharp a few short years ago.

Known as the Queen of Habanero, Sharp’s sauces are distributed in more than 20 countries; it’s the No. 1 habanero sauce in the world.

Her personal story is just as wild and meritorious as her friendship and partnership with Touby.

Starting as a home gardener growing peppers in the late 1970s, Sharp started experimenting and creating recipes in her home kitchen. Touby worked for a major distribution company which brought the famed habanero sauces to the US and that is how they met.

The genesis of the Maya Mike Barbacoa brand came forth during a trip to Belize to visit Sharp and her family. After a day of snorkeling and fishing, a beach barbecue was underway and the fishermen had bottles of Marie Sharp’s as condiments as well as a bottle of Heinz barbecue sauce. Touby instantly got the idea that a smoky barbecue sauce could be made with the bounty of peppers available in Belize.

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“Everyone should experience this sauce. It’s a stable product and has been this way since the beginning,” says Sonia Schilling, the Director of Operations for Marie Sharp’s USA.

Local restaurants and markets stock bottles as well as use the sauce in recipes. Curtis Hackaday, chef de cuisine at 1703 Restaurant in Winston-Salem, swears by the sauces.

“The smoked habanero got me in the door,” Hackaday says, “and the variety got me to stay. I go back and forth between flavors.”

The Marie Sharp’s line and all of the Maya Mike Belizean Barbacoa sauces are the house hot sauce of choice at the restaurant.

“We offer the fruit-wood smoked habanero. The mango habanero, green habanero, all the barbacoas and the sweet habanero to guests if they ask for hot sauce.”

Characterized as “fine dining with a modern twist,” Hackaday has created dishes such as a Southern-fried airline chicken breast served over Parmesan risotto, garnished with a smoked-habanero pickled watermelon rind emulsion, alongside a small plate of deviled eggs garnished with a Central American inspired curtido, similar to a fermented cabbage slaw, and the smoked habanero sauce. The creativity of Hackaday knows no bounds, nor does the availability of the sauces in the area.

In addition to the line of habanero hot sauces and the barbacoa sauces, Marie Sharp’s brand is growing and excelling in the US market.

Looking to the future, Touby reveals a piece of his plan: “We are launching a new line of tropical jams and jellies, and we have a new superfood salsa coming out at the beginning of next year.”

RECIPE: Jackfruit Barbacoa Tacos, 
Adapted from MarieSharps.Com

4  8-inch round flour or corn tortillas
1 16-ounce can jackfruit
1/2 cup Maya Mike Belizean Barbacoa (Original “White” Label)
2 tbsp Maya Mike Belizean Barbacoa (Smoked “Red” Label)
1-1/2 cups shredded red cabbage 
1 cup mango, diced 
2 teaspoons orange zest
1/3 cup green onions, sliced
2 tbsp white wine vinegar 
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 
1 tsp coriander, ground
1/2 cup avocado (1 half)
1/3 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
1/4 cup water
2 tsp garlic cloves, minced 
salt and pepper, to taste

Open and drain jackfruit, lightly break up with a fork and place in slow cooker along with 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, both Maya Mike Belizean Barbacoa sauces, stir together and cook on LOW for 5 hours.

Combine shredded cabbage with diced mango, sliced green onions and orange zest in a bowl. Toss ingredients with ground coriander, white wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with pepper, to taste.

Place avocado in a food processor or blender with garlic, sour cream and water. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Transfer to a squeeze bottle or small bowl for serving.

Warm tortillas in a toaster, oven or iron skillet for 2-4 minutes, until warmed through. Divide Barbacoa jackfruit between the tortillas, top with Mango Slaw and drizzle avocado sauce on the slaw.

Pro tips: The mango slaw and avocado sauce can be prepared in advance and refrigerated for final assembly. To prevent the avocado from oxidation, pour a heavy layer extra virgin olive oil over the surface of the cut avocado or the finished avocado sauce and press plastic wrap onto the surface and store

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