Four years ago, Charlie Lawrence and business partner Taras Ochota, of Ochota Barrels wines, founded Uraidla pizzeria-within-a-church, Lost in A Forest.
It was a business idea that snowballed after Charlie started messing around on the weekends cooking wood-oven pizzas at home for friends.
This month, Charlie has launched his latest venture, Hézeus Hot Sauce, featuring three different flavours using habanero chillies grown in Charlie’s backyard in Norwood, with fruit smoked in a pizza oven and fermented in Ochota Barrels wine barrels.
The brand’s first three flavours include the hot habanero “X” sauce, as well as milder flavours: chilli and nashi pear, and chilli and apricot.
Charlie designed the eye-catching packaging himself, while the idea for the wax-topped bottles was inspired by Ochota Barrels wines, which uses a similar wax bottle coating.
“I’m really happy with the design,” Charlie says. “I’ve been in branding and packaging a long time now, about 30 years. I liked the word ‘Hèzeus’ and it just came together on the label nicely.”
The apricots were smoked at Lost in A Forest and blended with Australian garlic and Tasmanian Pepperberries. The “X” sauce recipe includes Ochota Barrels wine, which was reduced and added after fermenting.
Lost in a Forest has gained a cult following for its creative pizzas and flavours, so it stands to reason that Hézeus has potential to garner an equally strong contingent of worshippers. Charlie has even designed a line of Hézeus merchandise, including T-shirts, caps and socks.
For his first batches, Charlie purchased extra habanero chillies to supplement the supply from his back yard. But this season he’s increased production to about 20 different varieties and the next releases will be made using all home-grown chillies.
“We’ve certainly grown a lot this year and they’re quite healthy. But now I’ve got no space for anything else in my back yard other than chilli plants,” he says.
At the end of the growing season, he plans to fuse the many varieties into a Field Blend Red Hot Sauce.
“It’s a nod to our winemaking friends who do a field blend towards the end of the vintage. This will be the most exciting sauce, as we are growing some wild and wonderful varieties,” Charlie says.
HeZeus will continue to release new and weird flavours, depending on what’s in season. Charlie recently purchased a large batch of pineapples after North Queensland growers were calling for support following a late pineapple season.
The pineapple has been smoked in the pizza oven and is now being fermented with bird’s eye chillies to make a pineapple jerk sauce.
“It’s all about being different,” Charlie says. “Our ethos at the Forest has always been about making pizzas that we would want to eat. A lot of our customers at the Forest really like what we do with our flavours, and we’ve sold a few bottles of Hézeus through there already.”
Much of the inspiration for Hézeus came during a holiday to Peru last year, when Charlie discovered aji amarillo chillies, which he also now grows.
“In Peru, they put them in everything, and they have a very citrusy, fruity flavour to them,” Charlie says.
“This year also look out for our chilli honey, which features on our best-selling BuzzBomb sopressa pizza. We use Buzz Honey from Mount Barker, blended with our chillies. It’s our favourite condiment to use and works on everything from pizza to baked brie.”
With Adelaide’s growing number of adventurous eateries, Charlie sees potential for distributing Hézeus into restaurants, bottles finding their way into sauce caddies around town.
And, each week, Lost in A Forest will rotate a different pizza onto the menu featuring one of the Hèzeus sauces.
“Our next sauce will be a super-hot chilli oil, using our own house-grown White Bhut Jolokia Chillies — this will be dangerous,” Charlie says. “Up at Lost in A Forest we get a lot of requests from people wanting chilli oil on their pizza. So, if they want it hot, it definitely will be.”
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