I had zero chill when Nando’s Canada invited me to a special event at their new location in Mahogany. Most of what I captured was not usable because I was literally shaking with excitement about being surrounded by all that PERi PERi sauce. I took photos instead of videos and videos instead of photos. I chatted with some very talented bloggers I admire. My seat was saved by a personalized bottle of aforementioned PERi PERi. Pinch me!
The highlight for sure was learning to make fresh, hot PERi PERi sauce from Ron Cecillon, president of Nando’s Canada. This famous hot sauce was first “discovered” by the Portuguese when they reached Africa hundreds of years ago. While we each painstakingly crushed our own chosen proportions of onion, garlic, oil, lemon juice, paprika, salt and dried chilies, Ron told us stories about Nando’s staff visiting Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe where they grow the famous bird’s eye chilies used in Nando’s PERi PERi sauce. It was very cool to hear about the charitable work they do in those communities to reduce malaria, which in turn keeps the population working and the local economy churning. (He also gave us a tip that adding more salt and oil cools down the heat from the chilies – the more you know!)
After we finished crushing our sauce, we had to pour it into little containers to be tasted for a contest later… No pressure! I tasted some on my pinky and loved the flavour, but it was followed by a big kick of heat that I felt in the back of my throat for way too long afterwards. Should I have warned the judges?
Next, we all sat down to shared platters of hearty coleslaw, PERi PERi fries (with PERI-naise), spiced rice, PERi PERi vegetables and of course, that famous PERi PERi chicken. (Are you sensing a theme yet?) I’ll be honest, this is the part where I got too excited and didn’t take enough photos – I was hungry! But I did pause long enough to document this beautiful pasteis de natas dessert, or Portuguese egg/custard tart. Creamy, flaky, dense and delicious!
It was also great during dinner to hear more from some of the Nando’s Canada team about all the conscious effort that goes into making sure Nando’s gives back to the communities in which it operates. Artwork, decor and even the light fixtures are all carefully selected and purchased from African artists to stimulate the economy in their communities. At the end of each night, each Nando’s location wraps and freezes any unsold food to be donated to local charities focused on feeding the hungry. Hearing the passion of the Nando’s team as they talked about these programs made me wish I could jump behind the counter and grill some chickens to help out!
After dinner, it was time for our hot sauces to be judged. There were 25-30 people participating, so there were a lot of samples to try. Not sure how the judges managed to taste that many hot sauces without dying or throwing up, but when they got to mine it was apparently the hottest of the night – could have had something to do with the fact that I put in a few more chilies than the recipe recommended. That ended up being a good strategy, because I won first place and took home some serious swag – yes, you guessed it, more PERi PERi sauce! I suspect the next few recipes I conceive will have a heavy PERi PERi influence…