Ever tasted something that jolts back a vivid memory? Maybe it’s a spice you first encountered on an overseas trip, or a pasta sauce reminiscent of your grandmother’s recipe.
Debra Sandler knows what that’s like. “For immigrants who have left their country,” Sandler says, “food from home warms your heart and brings you back together.”
Sandler’s Trinidadian and Venezuelan background was always present in the food her family made—and the sauces her Auntie Mavis whipped up were always central. When Sandler began learning the recipes, she noticed that Caribbean sauces had no market presence. She decided to remedy that, and soon, Bazodee was born.
Based in Morristown and launched in 2017, Bazodee represents three generations: Sandler, her daughter, Kiah, and, of course, her Auntie Mavis. Bazodee offerings—which contain “a gazillion ingredients,” Sandler says—include Tasty Tamarind dipping sauce, Trini Curry sauce, Marvelous Marinade (the signature green sauce), Soca Sauce and Hot Hot Soca Sauce, which won a Scovie Award in 2021.
Since her Auntie Mavis had always made the sauces without a written recipe, Sandler filmed her in the kitchen so she could gather a semblance of ingredients and measurements to test. “People who are really great chefs don’t have to follow a recipe,” Sandler says.
How did you recreate your Auntie Mavis’s recipes?
Debra Sandler: All I can say is, I’m glad I had the time to do this. It was a painful process because my aunt makes the sauces, and my mother had her own version, too. But neither of them had ever written them down; they just sort of made it! It took so many tries to figure out an exact recipe.
Where is your family from?
My mother was one of 12. She and half her siblings were born in Venezuela, and the other half were in Trinidad. […T]here was a lot of back and forth between those two places.
The foods we grew up with were a combination of Venezuelan and Trinidadian, as well as Caribbean. There was always a bottle of pepper sauce on the table, but the seasoning on the foods was important to both cultures. The green sauce we always had is an immediate seasoning, and you don’t have to add much more to that. It’s convenient.
What made you want to bring this aspect of your culture into a business?
Back in 2017, what was going on in the marketplace was people showing more interest in cultural flavors. But there was a gap in respect to Caribbean foods commercially. Our market is a mix. Caribbean people recognize it and are happy to share, and there are others who are inquisitive and love a good hot sauce.
Did you grow up eating these sauces?
Yes. One in particular, a green sauce, we always had in the refrigerator. Sometimes my mother would have a small bottle in the freezer to make sure we didn’t run out. My mother also loved spicy, so we had tons of pepper sauces, too.
Do you have a favorite sauce?
That’s like asking me who my favorite child is! Our Soca sauce is very popular, and we’ve found many ways to use it. One of my favorites is seasoning chicken thighs. Leave it [to marinate] for a couple of hours, and then dip [the chicken] in the sauce again and put it on the grill. It is so delicious.
What’s it like working with family?
Family business is great, but not easy! I come from a big family, so the biggest pros are that we know how to communicate with each other and how to get over some challenging issues. That’s the positive, but all those things can also be the negative. With my aunt, daughter and myself, we get along so well, so it really has been a lot of fun.
What has your experience been as a Black- and female-owned family business?
It’s really been a lot of opportunity. I financed this business myself, and I think if I wanted to go out and look for investments, it’s a bit more of a challenge for women and minority-based businesses. We have been given lots of opportunities and have gotten a lot of exposure, which we are just very grateful for.
How has your background shaped you and helped your business?
Around many immigrant tables, you talk about the foods from home and you pass them on for generations. Meals bring families together. It’s a pleasure to have a role in the food industry that in some way can bring that to someone else’s kitchen.
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