29 | Aug | 13

Richard Johnson

Hot Stuff

The street food revolution in Britain has opened us up to a whole new range of taste. And, underpinning a lot of the best new food out there is the heat of chillies. But we were surprised to learn that a lot of the best peppers now come from the greenhouses of Salvatore Genovese — in the bloomin’ LEE VALLEY! We called him up at Love My Chillies for a  chat.

“Mum and Dad were from Sicily – an area in the mountains where they grew oranges and peaches. When they emigrated to England, they weren’t sure what to grow. Driving up and down the M1, they found the Lee Valley – and a derelict nursery full of empty greenhouses. So they bought it and, with the help of my Uncle, got it up and running. That was also the year I was born. I was raised under glass. We grew everything – chrysanthemums, courgettes, everything. But we specialized in cucumbers. Cues, cues, and more cues. I was even called Cue Boy at school.

But then cucumber prices fell, and we needed to grow something different. I wanted to grow chillies. Somebody had to push my Dad. I was at that sort of age. In the end I just ignored what he said and ordered the plants anyway. It wasn’t just my Dad who said it would be disastrous to grow chillies. We employed a crop consultant who said ‘Don’t even think about it. We won’t be able to sell them’. He was wrong — I can’t believe we knock out 12 million chillies a year. And this part of the Lee Valley is now the chilli capital of the UK. We still employ the guy as a crop consultant. We just don’t get him involved with the marketing.

My wife and I have two girls – two and four. They love the chillies. They take them into school for Harvest Festival. Flavia loves yellow. So it would be good to get a yellow chilli. It’s nice being the boss sometimes. The weather in the UK is perfect for chillies. All our varieties are grown without artificially intensifying lighting, which means Love My Chillies are only available during the natural growing season — late spring to Christmas. We do get reasonable sun in this country. It’s 15-20 degrees during the majority of the year, and in the summer it gets too hot. We actually have to cool the plants down at night.

The market for chillies has gone crazy. In part it’s the immigrants. But it’s also that Brits tastes are changing. They have been on holiday. And they see Jamie Oliver on the telly. He never cooks without chopping a chilli. Chillies are everywhere. We were just there at the right time, and produced chillies in the right scale. We supply four supermarkets now, and I’ve seen a 200-300% increase in sales since we started. I don’t understand the macho trend for hot chillies. People say to us ‘What’s your hottest?’. Not ‘What’s your mildest?’. Or ‘What tastes best?’. But we are responsible for the Bedfordshire Super Naga. We grew it for Tesco, and it got loads of attention. And we’ve submitted another one to have its Scovilles measured. The world record holder is 2 million. We reckon our latest is 6.5 million. You’ll need gloves to handle it.” Sounds like one for The Ribman?