Personal Chef Kirsten Helle made cooking her lifelong career—but this past year, she made the leap into launching Mesa de Vida, a line of healthy cooking sauces. The sauces, made with natural ingredients and inspired by international cuisine, will please vegan foodies and busy families alike.
Her full range of sauces are available now on Undiscovered Kitchen:
Creole Inspired Cooking Sauce ($13): A Louisiana cuisine created with French, Spanish, and West African inspiration, this is the flavor base to build all of your savory dishes. Bring some exotic flair to your dinner table when you use this sauce as a base for an easy weeknight gumbo, etouffée or one-pot jambalaya, or perhaps a Martinique-inspired chicken or fish recipe.
Caribbean Inspired Cooking Sauce ($14): If you’re in the mood for jerk or want to seriously kick-up ordinary pulled pork, chicken wings and rice and peas. Or maybe add a Caribbean flair to your typically boring weeknight chicken dinner, the complex elements of these incredible flavors are perfectly balanced and waiting for you in this jar.
Smoky Latin Inspired Cooking Sauce ($13): This is where it all began. We love Latin cuisine. The smoky, nuanced spices of Spain, the bold and bright flavors of Mexico, the clean and simple cuisine of Costa Rica and, definitely, the sassy sazon of the Dominican Republic. We simply couldn’t decide a favorite, so we created a sauce to capture bold tastes from each cuisine.
North African Harissa Inspired Cooking Sauce ($13): Transport yourself to Tangier with a tasting tour in Marrakech and Casablanca along the way. The only thing you won’t need are the myriad of spices to create this intoxicating, aromatic sauce. Chef-blended in one jar and ready to bring life to your next meal.
Gift Pack—All 4 Sauces ($59) :All 4 of our healthy gourmet cooking sauces packed up and shipped out to help your kitchen become a global hub of deliciousness! Includes one jar each of all four healthy cooking sauces gift wrapped in a reusable wood box.
Who are the business founders and when did you launch the business?
Myself, Chef Kirsten Helle. My husband Artie is also a partner in the business as an advisor. I launched on December 8, 2016 after dreaming for years and planning for over a year.
What inspired you to start your business?
I love to nourish people, it’s one of the reasons started out as a personal chef. Sure, I love to cook for others, but I really love to NOURISH them. I love the act of feeding people, it brings me so much joy! I also know a lot of people struggle with eating healthy and often end up making unhealthy processed food, the same boring thing all the time, or going out when they’d rather be at home. I love the idea of families gathering around the table most nights of the week so I thought creating something that can help them eat healthier, more delicious meals at home more often and simply was the way I can help more people than I can actually cook for myself.
Where do you currently make your product and how did you find the process of finding a kitchen to be like?
My sauces are now made at a local co-packer. I knew if I wanted to build a scalable business and have time to focus on sales and marketing, and just the general running of the business, I would have to outsource the making of my sauces. I had to get my recipes, normally made in a blender at home, reviewed and checked off by the processing authority before I could even begin to seek out a co-packer. Scaling up the recipe, having the right formulation for a shelf-stable product without going the route of artificial preservatives and stabilizers took a ton of trial and error. I was so sick of my sauces after those months of back and forth and waiting for the approval! Then when I did have that approval letter in my hands I had to work with the co-packer to make sure the recipe tasted the same as it did at thousands of gallons as it did for one batch’s worth at home. It has been quite a learning experience going through this process!
Did you have a background in the food/drink industry when you started? (If not, what was your background?)
Yes, I am a personal chef, that is still my “day job”. I specialize in clients with food intolerances and allergies and working with naturopaths, and I’ve been lucky enough to work with many clients that are professional athletes and high profile clients. I love my career as a chef, but my hands, feet and shoulders can only take so much! I knew I needed to find another long term outlet for my passion.
A business idea that was left on the editing room floor?
Spice blends. I would absolutely love to share the spice blends I’ve spent years creating, my clients and I think they’re fabulous! But the spice and spice blend market is so competitive and there are some great products out there already. I figured I’d focus my efforts for now and build a brand that will hopefully become a household name.
What are some examples of rookie mistakes you made when starting out?
Oh so many I can’t count. I’m sure I’m still making them, that’s how we learn, right? I also have the tendency to really go for things and jump off the edge of a cliff when I really feel good about something. This has (mostly) worked out, but of course there are some very valuable lessons along the way. This is a new world for me—retail/wholesale/food manufacturing/marketing a retail product, etc. I’d say that most mistakes I have made have come from not trusting my gut instincts.
Your biggest business challenge to date?
So far it is funding a woman-owned small business start-up. It is not easy and it takes real grit and determination, plus incredible organization and research.
How do you stay motivated in the face of competition?
It is definitely daunting to see all of the other amazing products out there competing for consumer attention (and eventually their trust) to put your product into their shopping cart over others! I stay motivated by reminding myself of the original reason why I made this scary leap—to help people.
What’s your main business goal for 2017?
To expand the brand nationally.
What makes your company unique?
We hope to bring inspired flavors to the everyday family table. I love all kinds of cuisines and find that many are so well represented by regional cooking sauces (Indian, Thai, etc.) so my goal is to help other vibrant cuisines have a “seat at the table” so families can enjoy a wide range of flavors. Our sauces are also sweetened with plums!
What’s your team or company motto/mantra? (Informal or formal)
Do good, be good. It’s my mantra in life, for my kids and for my business. Always, always do good and be your best.
Advice for someone with a great artisan food or drink idea?
Research, research and get tons of feedback from a wide variety of people about your product before you decide to make the gigantic commitment. You may love your product, but not everyone will. Find out who your target audience is and focus on them.