Let it Burn
Sandyville resident Ramona Price has a deep love for fiery foods. In fact, she loves them so much that she has made a career out of offering her own hot sauces, salsas, and spices to the public. Under the company name Miss Mona’s Sauces and Spices, Price’s line of products has garnered a lot of recognition. But it was at the 2012 Scovie Awards that her products really got their seal of approval. Remarkably, as a first-time entrant into the competition, all four of the products Price entered placed in the top three in their respective categories.
Price earned a third-place win in the “fruit salsa” category for her Tropical salsa, a milder salsa containing pineapple, papaya, and mango. Her Liquid Lucifer hot sauce and Caribbean BBQ sauce took second prize in the “extreme sauce” and “jerk mild barbeque sauce” categories, respectively. But it was her Extra Hot salsa that earned the top prize in the “XX hot salsa” category. “When they told me all four placed, it was like winning Publisher’s Clearinghouse,” she says.
The road to her Scovie Award success has been a long one. Now nearing 47 years old, Price began cooking at the age of eight out of necessity. Her mother would not return home from work until 7:30 p.m., so she had to learn to cook for herself. “I just started playing with cooking,” she says. “The first gravy I made, you couldn’t strain it and make it edible.”
As the years passed, Price’s skill increased. She began altering store-bought products to get the tastes she wanted. And then, an epiphany: “I thought, ‘if I had to spend so much time on someone else’s product, I may as well make my own,’” she says. To see how her products would be received, in 2007 she gave jars to coworkers as Christmas gifts. People loved them, and by 2008, Miss Mona’s Sauces and Spices was born.
The Scovie Awards—named for the Scoville system used to rank the spicy-heat of peppers—are an annual event at which culinary experts judge entries in categories like “XX hot salsa” and “extreme sauce.” At this year’s awards, held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Price’s products were not lacking for competition. The Scovie Awards Web site indicates that 792 total entries from 161 companies, located across 38 states and four countries, competed this year.
Price says the success she has had is due to the suggestions from her customers. “You’ve got to listen to your people, because they’re going to tell you what they want,” she says. It was her customers’ requests for hotter and hotter sauces that led to the creation of her Brimstone hot sauce, and then the Liquid Lucifer hot sauce. She has also accommodated requests for less spicy sauces, although she admits that her mild is most people’s medium.
The key to getting products like her extra hot salsa or Liquid Lucifer hot sauce so spicy is the Bhut Jolokia pepper, more commonly referred to as the “ghost pepper,” Price says. The ghost pepper’s Scovie scale ranking exceeds 1 million units. By comparison, a habanero pepper ranks in at approximately 200,000 to 300,000 Scovie units. Price, who grows her own peppers for her products, will not even pick these peppers without gloves. “They’re called the ‘ghost pepper’ because, if you use them, you turn into a ghost,” Price says. “With Liquid Lucifer, I’ve made grown men cry.”
While Price is ecstatic about her Scovie Award victories, she is not content to simply sit and bask in success. “I don’t plan to stay small,” she says. “I had a friend who said, ‘Mona, what’s the deal? Do you want to be on the Food Network or something?’ I said, ‘No, I want to own it.’”