The Story of Chicaoji

Chicaoji began here on Lopez Island, Washington, one day when a good friend who is into using food as medicine offered me a snack. She loaded up my hand with goji berries and cacao nibs. I had tasted goji and cacao in other foods (like hot cereals and chocolate which I love)  but not just those two together. I flipped the whole scoop into my mouth.

As I chewed an amazing flavor developed. A bell went off. My first thought was “WOW, That’s really good but it sure could use just a little spicy heat“. I walked from my friend’s place across a field to Blossom Organic Grocery and bought some of ever kind of dried of chile peppers they had in stock, some goji berries, and some raw cacao nibs. I took  them home and started playing with the blender.

I have played around making hot sauces in the past but this little combination was new culinary terrain for me. I used other ingredients I had on hand such as pickling vinegar and salt. I brought the results down to the Vortex Juice Bar and Cafe which is one of the best places to eat on Lopez. The owner, Jean Perry, strives to make the best food she can using locally produced ingredients to the extent they’re available; mostly things like wraps, salads, soups, and juices. It is actually a main hangout spot here on Lopez Island where lots of locals congregate to eat and socialize.

I foisted upon these innocents my concoctions based on goji berries, cacao, and chilies. I continued to play with various chilies, salts, vinegars, and sweeteners over the Summer of 2007, guided by the “Food is Medicine” concept.

I was onto something. I wanted the best possible ingredients so I asked  knowledgeable locals what’s best.
For example, I learned that people have salt gurus. Who’d have thought? A friend who had a salt guru in the 70’s said Celtic Sea Salt is one of the best. Best is good enough.

As the Summer progressed, I explored combinations guided by the responses from fellow Lopezians: too hot, not hot enough, too sweet, not sweet enough, too vinegary, not enough vinegar, and so forth. Finally, after much fine tuning, I had a concoction many found delicious.

It didn’t have a name but people were stopping me in the street to say “Hey Randall! When you gonna make more of that sauce?!”

I needed a name. I sat down and broke the words chipotle, cacao, and goji apart into their basic syllables. I came up with CHIpotle, caCAO, goJI: CHICAOJI. A new word for a new sauce.

I didn’t know much about running (much less starting) a business but I proceeded to get approval from the Washington State Department of Agriculture to produce and sell Chicaoji to the public. Jean Perry very kindly let me use the Vortex’s legal kitchen.
You can thank Jean Perry for Chicaoji in your life because access to her kitchen let it spread.

I also credit Washington Community Alliance for Self Help (WA CASH) now called Ventures, a nonprofit based in Seattle, WA, that helps people start small businesses. Just when I was overwhelmed by the the complexities and challenges of starting a business WA CASH offered a small business start-up class right here on Lopez Island sponsored by the Lopez Island Family Resource Center. The class transformed what seemed an insurmountable wall of business jargon and practices into discrete bits that actually made sense. I learned that if I patiently approach each problem as it presents itself rather than try doing everything at once I could actually make my little business work.

Many people have helped me along the way. Friends have given their time, advice, and encouragement in many ways to keep Chicaoji moving along. I see Chicaoji as a sacred mission. I sense that Chicaoji is a coming together, a gathering, of healing tribes of Beings. The ingredients represent what I call Tribes (or Family or Genus or Clan) of Beings including each ingredient’s home flora and fauna. Each tribe brings to this gathering its own healing gifts. The people who helped Chicaoji come together and now spread out into the world share their own healing and loving gifts even just if it is simply enjoying a meal together.

I like that Chicaoji tastes good and can also be good for us.

That’s pretty much the Chicaoji story. Thanks for reading this far. I hope you enjoy Chicaoji.