Shadon Beni and Spanish Thyme

David Katz tastes the nostalgia in Michael Anatol’s pepper sauce

  • Michael Anatol of Deboss sauce, with partner Lucy Gallacher. Photograph courtesy David Katz

At last summer’s Notting Hill Carnival in London, a new pepper sauce was doing the rounds. Dispensed from small glass jars decorated with homemade labels, Deboss Premium Caribbean Sauce was available in two varieties, one a “Very Hot Pepper Sauce,” the other labelled “Mild All Purpose.”

As my nostrils registered the worrying presence of scotch bonnet peppers in the Hot, I opted to augment my fish with a dash of the Mild, which bore the legend “Memories of Maracas,” in reference to one of Trinidad’s most popular beaches. It turned out to be a pleasantly flavourful concoction based largely on shadon beni, a relative of the coriander plant that is a mainstay of cooking in the southern Caribbean, but almost totally unknown in the UK. As most sauces available here are variants of Jamaican-style jerk marinade designed for barbecues, Memories of Maracas was an unexpected delight that immediately brought to mind the last time I limed on a beach in Trinidad.

A quick glance at their website revealed that Deboss does not use artificial ingredients or chemical additives. And as the website offers London residents the opportunity to “try before you buy,” I entered my contact information and was pleasantly surprised when, a few hours later, an amiable, bald-headed Trini named Michael Anatol appeared at my door with a personal delivery of miniature tester jars of his homemade product.

Anatol, who was born in London and raised in Port of Spain, first learned the secrets of cooking from a great-aunt during his teens.

“When I was attending Fatima College, I moved in with my aunt in Woodbrook,” he explains. “She was a workaholic, so she got an aunt of hers, affectionately known as Puss, to do the cooking, and Puss could cook—I mean really cook. She was also the most genuine soul I have ever had the pleasure to meet and despite my rebelliousness, she got through to me every time. I would stand in the kitchen talking to Puss, and I suppose subconsciously I was absorbing what she was doing.

“I moved back to the UK in 1989 to study aeronautical engineering, and started working in IT in the mid-1990s. Then came the dot-com recession of 2002, when I was hit by two back-to-back redundancies. Christmas was looming, I was out of a job, and that is when I came up with the idea of making a pepper sauce as gifts for friends and family. Then I continued to do so in the absence of any special occasion.”

Universal praise told Anatol he was onto something positive, and after he gained an MBA from Brunel University, he and his long-term partner Lucy decided to launch the sauces as a commercial enterprise.

“The first sauce I made was the Hot Pepper, using a small blender at home,” he recalls. “Lucy was the inspiration for the Mild All Purpose Sauce, as the Hot Pepper Sauce was too hot for her. I created the prototype of the Mild when preparing a fish dish that I thought could use a nice shadon beni-flavoured sauce with a little kick, instead of the full-on volley of the Hot Pepper. Memories of Maracas is a name that I had been toying with, as the shadon beni gives it that Maracas flavour. For anyone who has tasted the famous bake [actually a kind of flat bread made of fried dough] and shark on sale at Maracas, the Mild will probably conjure up some memories.”

At present, Deboss sauces are only available by order, online or by phone, but Anatol hopes to expand the business this year, and is negotiating with a number of food stores to stock the sauces. He is also planning a third variety that will make use of the pungent, oversize leaf that is known as Spanish thyme in Trindad.

“Deboss is so confident in its products that it will undergo blind taste tests with any other product on the market,” Anatol says proudly, “and I have people putting in orders to take back to Trinidad for Christmas. That is one of the biggest compliments that I have ever been paid.”

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