Retired Marine Achilles Murray is Sergeant of Gourmet Sauces

Cuisine Noir. November 2020

For retired marine Achilles Murray, the recent lockdown has been a blessing. “People are cooking more at home. They are tired of ordering takeout. That’s where my reputable and delicious barbecue sauces come handy,” says Murray.

Murray and his wife started J&T’s Gourmet Sauces from their home kitchen while stationed in Japan. Murray, a native of Pasadena, California, joined the United States Marine Corps at the age of 22 and was deployed for about 13 years of his career. His family lived in Japan, Hawaii, South Carolina and California, and traveled all over the world. “We got to see a lot of places, including Hong Kong, Australia and Dubai. My favorite time was when I was stationed in Jordan for eight months. We had a mission there, and we did a good job at it,” Murray recalls.

Missing a Taste of Home

During his six-year-long tenure in Okinawa, Japan, Murray was inspired to make his barbecue sauce. Murray loved Japanese food and culture, but he was homesick for authentic and flavorful barbecue that he grew up with. He was always barbecuing with his fellow Marines and other service members but felt that something was missing. “It was a very beautiful island, and we could find all kinds of cuisines, but no respectful barbecue sauces,” Murray says.  The only sauces he was able to get at the commissaries were very basic. He started experimenting in his home kitchen with no prior professional cooking experience and came up with something more palatable. “When our friends tried it, they said we should start bottling this. People were going crazy over it,” says Murray.

Achilles Murray, founder of J & T's Gourmet Sauces
Pictured: Achilles Murray | Photo credit: Paul Morgan Photography
Do It Yourself

As a Marine, Murray learned to take leadership and an “if you want things done well, do it yourself” attitude. He started bottling and selling his sauces while living in Parris Island, South Carolina, but couldn’t get the operation up and running as he was always moving.

It wasn’t until years later, when he retired in 2014, that Murray was able to fully dedicate himself to commercializing the sauce his family and friends had grown to love. He rented a kitchen and made 40-80 bottles of his “Original” sauce by hand, which would sell out in two weeks. “It was very daunting at first. We got to a point when we couldn’t keep up with the demand. So we got a business license, hired a copacker to make four different sauces under our label.” Murray now sells around 1200 bottles every six weeks.

Getting started was the most challenging part for Murray as he did not have prior business experience or a mentor. “I learned mostly through trial and error until I got it right. Once we got the paperwork together and started producing more quantities, it was like clockwork,” says Murray attributing his success to the dedication and discipline that he acquired while in the Marine Corps.

Flavor in Every Bottle

Murray named his company after his children (Joshua, Elisa, Tempestt and Leigh) and the flavors for his love for California. Back in Japan, he started with only one homemade sauce, which he calls Original. It is sweet and tangy and has more flavor than any other barbecue sauce, he claims.

J & T's Gourmet Sauces
Pictured: J & T’s Gourmet Sauces | Photo credit: Paul Morgan Photography

Two years ago, he also started experimenting with local ingredients he found in the supermarket. Staying true to his hometown, he added crushed pineapple to the base sauce to create California Crush. Peaches, mangoes and jalapenos inspired the Backyard Boogie flavor. “When I tasted it, I start dancing, and Mack 10’s ‘Backyard Boogie’ song kept playing in my head,” says Murray. And his fourth flavor, San Andreas, blends strawberries, oranges and habanero, presenting an “earthquake in your mouth.”

“The sauces go on anything from Bloody Marys to mac and cheese and lasagna. You could even drink it. That’s how good it is.” As expected, Murray won’t reveal his secret ingredient.

Expanding The Brand

Murray and his wife now live in Camp Pendleton, California, and sell J&T’s Gourmet Sauces at Temecula area farmers markets, online through their website and in retail stores around Southern California. Service members and friends of Murray have ordered his sauces from Japan, Australia, Jordan and Netherlands.

Chicken wings with J & T's Gourmet Sauces
Pictured: Chicken wings with J & T’s Gourmet Sauces | Photo credit: Paul Morgan Photography

But his goal is to get on grocery store shelves across the nation. Murray wants people everywhere to have the same “earthquakes and boogies” on their palates as he has while creating his sauces.

~ Written for & published by Cuisine Noir. All rights reserved.

7 Doughnuts from Around the World That’ll Make You Want to Put a Ring on It

Chowhound. Oct 2020.

Doughnuts (or donuts) are one of the most popular fried snacks that unites cultures around the world. Doughnuts come in all sizes and shapes: rings, holes, spheres, twists, and balls. It’s hard to argue that everyone enjoys fried dough no matter what shape or form it is served in. As long as it’s hot, fresh, and fried crisp!

Most doughnut recipes include flour, water, sugar, oil, eggs, milk, and shortening. Jellies, chocolate, cream, powdered sugar, and many other flavorings are used as toppings and fillings. To make doughnuts at home you only need some basic equipment: a large saucepan or Dutch oven for frying, a wooden spoon or spider, a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, and perhaps a piping bag. Continue reading on Chowhound….

The Ultimate Guide to Pomegranate, ‘The Jewel of Winter’

Chowhound. Oct 2020.

Mystic, beautiful, decorative, lucky, nutritious, superfood—these are some of the words used to describe a pomegranate fruit. Here’s everything you need to know about choosing and using pomegranate.

The brilliant ruby red ball has a thick rind on the outside, and spongy white tissue and edible sweet yet tart arils inside. Whole pomegranates are often used as holiday centerpieces, while the citrusy seeds are useful for juicing, cooking, and garnishing. Continue reading on Chowhound

10 Ways to Work Pimento Cheese into Your Game Day Menu

Chowhound. October 2020.

Often referred to as “Carolina Caviar” or “Southern pâté” in the southern United States, pimento cheese is a classic at tailgates, parties, and in lunchboxes around the country—and these are some of the best pimento cheese recipe ideas around.

This unique cheese mixture is traditionally made with shredded cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, and sweet cherry peppers called pimentos. You can add hot sauce, horseradish, jalapenos, garlic, pickles, or any condiment to season the spread. Blend it smooth or leave it chunky. Serve it as a dip with veggies and crackers, spread it on sandwiches, add it to collard greens, or top it over a pizza. The possibilities to personalize pimento cheese are endless. Continue reading on Chowhound

Blending Caribbean and Italian Flavors with Chef, Entrepreneur and Philanthropist Nik Fields

Cuisine Noir Magazine. September 2020.

Chef Nik, better known as “Nik the Chic Chef “or “Foodie with a Cause,” has merged her passion for food and life.  Over the years, she has gained national recognition for her amazing culinary art skills having prepared cuisine for celebrities such as Jess Hilarious, Supa Cent, Angie Stone, Vivica Fox, Tisha Campbell, Tichina Arnold and Snoop Dogg. Fields is possibly the only Black chef with her own olive farm and a collection of infused olive oils and balsamic vinegars. In the past few months, she introduced a new line of syrups and is planning to open a retail store and café.

Fields grew up in Brooklyn, New York, with her Caribbean-American parents who instilled a love for food in her since she was a little girl. She earned a culinary arts degree and traveled to Italy in search of culture and good food. However, her parents discouraged her from working in the culinary field as they did not consider it to be a glamorous career. Fields earned a master’s degree in finance instead, worked at a bank and excelled in her field. She had a family and continued to show her love for food by throwing parties and family dinners.

Create Your Own Path

At age 43, once her daughter graduated from college, Fields decided to pursue her life’s dream in the culinary arts. “I already had the skills and just needed to brush them[up]. I needed confidence to face the competitive environment,” she says.

Chef Nik Fields
Pictured/Photo credit: Nik Fields

Fields also wanted to use her business skills and create her own path in the culinary world. Instead of working from the ground up, she co-created Chic Chef Co. in 2016. She purchased olive groves in Italy, produced olive oil and introduced 15 organic, salt-free and hand-mixed seasonings. “Think of it as a healthier version of Goya. It’s easy, delicious and doesn’t require any cooking,” adds Fields. She recently introduced a line of honey-based organic simple syrups under Chic Chef Co. that come in flavors such as mango lime, jalapeno and lavender vanilla. The products are available online and in select retail stores. Next, Fields is working on a line of sorbets.

When asked what does it takes to create one’s own product line, Fields says, “It takes a lot of testing, trials and errors. You want to pick a product you can stand behind. I have an appreciation for Italian culture and add my spin on it with my Caribbean background. That’s new and unique.”

Fields plans to open a flagship store in January of 2021 in downtown Phoenix, Arizona. The location will also feature a community garden, a restaurant called Chic Chef Co. Marketplace and Café and a private tasting room called Culinary Vibe where Fields will host cooking classes, private dinners and events.

Dish by Chef Nik Fields
Pictured: Rice dish by Chef Nik Fields | Photo credit: Nik Fields

Through her books, this culinary trailblazer also wants to teach others about reducing food waste, the importance of food sustainability and how food stimulates mood and sexual drive. Her third book, “The Chic Chef Approach Volume III: Waste Not Want Not,” releases in October 2020.

Returning to One’s Roots

Fields continues to give back to her cultural background in the Caribbean. Every year, she travels with her team to the island of Hispaniola (an island divided into the nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic), where they fund clean water programs and help villages build private wells. Her nonprofit organization, Waste Not Want Not (WNWN, Inc.), encourages households and restaurants in the U.S. to limit food waste. They hold seminars for kids and adults in Arizona to teach them about food waste and how to grow their own gardens. “My culture teaches me to help as many people as possible and not to discriminate among the community.” Fields says she plans to mitigate hunger by offering free meals to the homeless populations in Phoenix.

The pandemic has not slowed down Fields and her efforts to help everyone eat better, save money and drink clean water. She adds, “The downtime allowed me to have more focus than before. I learned more aspects about my business and [will] be ready for when the world opens up again.”

Learn more as well as shop with Fields at https://www.chicchefco.com  and follow her Instagram and Facebook for updates on new products and the opening of her flagship store.

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved.

The Best Wraps Around the World and How to Make Them All at Home

Chowhound. August 2020.

Wraps are a much healthier alternative to fast food and one of the easiest things to make at home. Versatile for picnics, road trips, and office lunches, wraps are portable, quick, and hearty. They are also packed with nutrition and can be adapted to your taste. If you’re tired of lockdown cooking and bored of plain old sandwiches, here’s some inspiration for your next wrapped meal.

Continue reading on Chowhound.

Nayana Ferguson of Anteel Tequila Inspires Women to Create Their Own Legacy

Cuisine Noir Magazine. July 2020.

Nayana Ferguson of the Detroit-based spirit brand Anteel Tequila has always loved tequila.  When that love turned into a passion, she co-founded the tequila brand, which is one of the only tequila spirit brands in the United States to be led by a Black woman. Since launching in 2018, Anteel’s Coconut Lime Blanco Tequila and Reposado Tequila have received national recognition in Forbes and Wine Enthusiast, as well as several awards at the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

From Dreaming to Doing

In 2016, Ferguson and her husband, Don, were looking for a retirement opportunity to invest in. They had a wild idea of starting a tequila company given her appreciation for the spirit. Only in this situation, Ferguson was a doer, not a dreamer. Over the upcoming months, she researched everything she needed to know about setting up a tequila business and began talking to potential distilling partners in Mexico. Prior to this, Ferguson didn’t have any knowledge of the spirits industry, but she had an MBA and was a corporate business professional.

Co-founder Nayana Ferguson of Anteel Tequila
Pictured: Nayana Ferguson | Photo credit: Cyrus Tetteh

“It took about 11 months to get an actual bottle in hand. We needed a contract with the distillery, approvals by the Mexican government, importer permits from the U.S. government and so forth.” Ferguson recalls months of sampling recipes, learning about the spirits industry, doing research and filing paperwork. She was not able to visit Mexico due to the political climate there, so she relied a lot on FedEx and Google. The chemist at her partner distillery in Mexico would create recipes and send them to Ferguson and her team to sample. After a lot of back and forth, they achieved the desired flavor profiles they wanted to see in Anteel.

Becoming a Market Leader

When asked why Ferguson is passionate about tequila more than any other spirit, she cited it’s health benefits. Tequila is a spirit that is made from the agave plant, so it is naturally gluten-free and low in carbs, sugar and calories than other spirits. “If I’m going to drink, I would drink what is cleaner for me. Obviously, you need to drink tequila neat and not add extra sugars typically found in mixed drinks,” she states. As a pancreatic cancer and breast cancer survivor, Ferguson needs to watch what she puts into her body and minimize any effects of alcohol. She says that agave does not spike your blood sugar. Unlike other spirits, tequila is said to be an upper, not a downer, and can lift your mood, which is another reason why she likes tequila.

Anteel Tequila claims to have the world’s only coconut lime-flavored tequila, one that took a lot of flavor balancing but is something Ferguson and her other co-founders wanted. It is produced by using natural coconut extracts and avoiding synthetic flavors, which also makes drinking neat easy and flavorful.

Not many tequilas rest their Reposado in whiskey barrels (most use America oak barrels) as Anteel does. This infuses a unique char and flavor into their tequilas. Another thing that makes the brand stand out is the combination of blue agave from highland and lowland.

The Michigan-based brand recently changed the name to Anteel Tequila from TEEQ (Tequila of Extraordinary and Exquisite Quality), which is short for Antillean, a species of hummingbird.  The bird that inspired the name and the logo serves as a reminder of the Fergusons’ first discussion while in the Dominican Republic four years ago as well as the vision for the brand.

Drink with Anteel Tequila's Coconut Lime
Picture: Anteel Coconut Lime Blanco Tequila | Photo credit: Anteel Tequila
Continuing to Push Through

Like many businesses, Anteel has faced a few challenges this year, but they’ve continued to prevail by connecting with their clients and vendors. “Since bars and restaurants are not ordering as much, we are promoting online ordering. We have tried to stay proactive by doing social media marketing and making sure the product is still being produced,” says Ferguson about how she is managing her brand since the pandemic began. Business closures and staff shortages have in turn affected her supply chain, making the production time longer.

Even before the pandemic, it was challenging being an African-American woman in the tequila business for Ferguson. “When I walk into a store, initially some people don’t think I know what I am talking about. But once they see that I have done my homework, they begin to accept me,” she says.

As a mother of two young girls, Ferguson hopes to pave the wave for other Black women who feel they can’t break into a male-dominated business. She advises, “You don’t need to know everything, but you can start somewhere and learn along the way.” She encourages others to go for their dreams and create their own legacies.

Anteel Tequila is made and bottled in Mexico and imported to the U.S. through a distributor in Michigan. The products are available for sale at restaurants, bars and stores in Michigan, California and Florida as well as online. Ferguson recommends checking your local state laws for receiving alcohol by mail.

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir Magazine.

The Ultimate Guide to Mangoes

Chowhound. July 2020.

Get to know the mango in this handy guide, from types of mango to mango recipes, plus lots more info you never knew about this marvelous tropical fruit.

Mango is one of the most popular fruits in the world. It is believed that mango was first found in India over 5,000 years ago, and traveled with humans from Asia to almost every continent since. Mango is still considered a symbol of love in India, and according to local tradition, presenting a basket of mangoes symbolizes a gesture of friendship. Continue reading on Chowhound…

Jumoke Jackson, The Bishop of Biscuits, Releases Cookbook For Fail-Proof Biscuits

Cuisine Noir Magazine. June 2020.

New York City-based Chef Jumoke Jackson is a self-proclaimed “Bishop of Biscuits.” This private chef, caterer and speaker recently authored a cookbook called “Soulfull Biscuits: How to master the art of biscuits” that includes 50 ways to make biscuits, as well as jams and compound butter recipes.

Among his other accomplishments, Jackson graduated from the French Culinary Institute and the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. He founded Entrée Metropolitan, a catering and event planning company in 2008 and has cooked for Grammy award-winning artists, politicians and celebrities. Jackson has been featured on ABC’s “The Chew,” “Fox & Friends” morning show, Travel Channel’s “Fiery Foods Challenge” and Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay” and “Cutthroat Kitchen.”

“I love biscuits! Coming from the South, I have always gravitated toward biscuits. Every time I have had them, I have loved them,” Jackson says about the flaky, buttery puffs that have always been a staple on his dinner table.

The 10 Biscuit Commandments

About a year and a half ago, Jackson ran a biscuit sandwich pop-up in the heart of New York at Urban Space by Madison Square Garden. His “Hot Buttered Soul Sandwich”  — a buttermilk biscuit topped with a piece of fried chicken, mac and cheese and sweet potato puree  — was hugely popular for the 40 days the pop-up ran. People wanted more of his biscuits but did not know how to make them at home, which is what led Jackson to write his cookbook.

Buttermilk biscuits by Jumoke Jackson
Picture: Buttermilk biscuits | Photo credit: Jumoke Jackson

The cookbook contains Jackson’s scripted “10 Biscuit Commandments” or principles that should be followed to make perfect biscuits. “People need to realize that biscuits are very delicate. You have to be gentle with them, treating the dough like a baby and not use brute force,” says Jackson. “You don’t need to overwork it like pizza dough.” He also says to make sure your ingredients are fresh and that your baking powder has not expired.

Another tip he shares is to keep all ingredients, especially dairy, always chilled and not at room temperature. Cold butter helps make the biscuits fluff up while baking. “Butter releases a burst of steam when hot and that’s what makes your biscuit magical,” he adds. Jackson also advises using good quality unsalted butter to control the salt content. The rest of his commandments or biscuit making tips and tricks can be found in his “Soulfull Biscuits” cookbook that is available in eBook format on his website and soon on Amazon.

Don’t Forget About Flavor

Jackson likes to experiment with different flavors and fillings. “Aside from the traditional buttermilk biscuit, my second favorite is sweet potato biscuit,” he shares. In addition, he is big on combining different herbs and cheeses to make interesting variations. Some of the biscuit flavors he has introduced include rosemary and parmesan, thyme and pecorino, cinnamon roll, blueberry and yeast biscuits. He shares that you can also stuff the biscuits with a surprise filling such as jam, brie and apple or blackberry compote. “Fill the raw dough with whatever you like as long as you handle it as little as possible,” he advises.

Jumoke Jackson with blueberry biscuits
Pictured: Jumoke Jackson with blueberry biscuits | Photo credit: Jumoke Jackson

There are two main ways to cook biscuits. The most traditional way is using a cast-iron skillet that holds heat better, resulting in a crispier biscuit. The second is baking biscuits on a sheet pan in a conventional oven that is more straightforward and does not make a huge difference in the quality of the final product.

During the recent pandemic, many people have taken to baking at home. Biscuits are one of the most popular treats to bake and Jackson has been keeping busy, teaching virtual biscuit making classes via Chefs Feedplatform. “Many people are intimated by biscuits at first, but once they figure out how to make them, it feels really good!”

Now that we have you ready to create your own biscuit magic, be sure to try Jackson’s buttermilk biscuit recipe.

To purchase a copy of “Soulfull Biscuits: How to master the art of biscuits,” as well as try over savory recipes by Jackson, visit www.chefjjackson.com.  You can also stop by and follow his Instagram page for upcoming classes, more food and a few laughs.

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved.