Humble House Foods, which has been a cornerstone of the Pearl Farmers Market since its early days, recently landed its big break in this year’s H-E-B Primo Picks Quest for Texas Best competition. But it’s been a long road paved with intentions, blood, sweat, and hot sauce. As the third place winner, the company not only won $10,000, but also impending distribution for its line of hot sauces through H-E-B.
“This year’s H-E-B Quest for Texas Best drew entries from 101 towns across the state, and we’re very proud to have our first San Antonio finalist in the competition’s three-year history,” said Jody Hall, H-E-B director of Global Sourcing. “The husband and wife duo behind Humble House Foods stay true to their Texas roots with their Ancho & Morita-Smokey Tamarind Sauce, the product that won the couple $10,000 as the third place finalists in the competition.”
Now that the Humble House team, Chef Luis Morales and his wife Marsha, see a bright shining light at the end of the tunnel, they can fondly reminisce about their laborious beginnings.
“I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew I didn’t want to work in a restaurant,” said Luis, a graduate of San Antonio’s Culinary Institute of America (CIA). “I did four different business plans – one for chocolate, baking and pastry, cured meats, and cheese … all the things that interested me.”
After experimenting with each for more than a year, making edible delights such as cured duck prosciutto, chocolate truffles, and camembert, Luis and Marsha narrowed the scope down to cheese, which is what they initially started selling in May of 2009, first at the San Marcos Farmers Market and then at the Pearl a few months later.
“Cheese really surprised me. My heart was set on cured meats, but we chose to do cheese because it made the most sense in terms of startup costs. However, once I started, I just fell in love with it, and if I had chosen any of the others, Humble House wouldn’t be here,” Luis said confidently.
What came next surprised the pair even more. Based on a recommendation from Cora Lamar, the former president of the Pearl Farmers Market Association, they started producing a line of gourmet sauces and condiments, which included tapenade, hummus, and three different kinds of pesto – cilantro pesto, basil pesto, and tomato pesto – all flavors with which you can top the breakfast tostadas they serve at their pop-up restaurant during Saturday’s market.
“We had stopped making cheese because when the state of Texas changed the dairy laws we didn’t have $100,000 to re-purpose,” Marsha said. Although the sauces were a magnificent hit with patrons, the couple had their eyes on the prize and wanted to develop specifically-designed products to compete in the H-E-B competition. Humble House spent several months developing recipes for both hot sauces and moles to see which line would be most viable and popular with the public.
The inspiration for the sauces came from Luis’ immersion in the CIA’s Latin cuisine program, which, at the time, ran for 30 weeks.
“That really opened my eyes. Part of the program was in the kitchen and part was in the classroom learning the culture and speaking the language, so I fell in love with that culture and food. I’m Mexican, right, but because my mom’s from New Mexico. I had no idea about real indigenous Mexican food with indigenous ingredients,” Luis said.
The hot sauces are a product line that Luis felt incredibly connected with and passionate about.
“They were something I really wanted to do – they’re my brainchild,” he said, referring to the three different hot sauces, which include Ancho & Morita, Habanero & Aji Amarillo, and Guajillo & Red Jalapeño. The new sauces are Luis’ way of sharing the rich Mexican culture and flavors with people.
“They’re not too spicy either,” Marsha added. “True Mexican cuisine is not about spicy – it’s about the chilies and the balance of flavors. It’s a tradition for the indigenous Mexicans to hand down seeds when a couple gets married. There’s a respect and reverence for chilies that we wanted to share.”
When they tested the moles and the hot sauces on their audience, Humble House was proud but surprised yet again when they learned that the hot sauces were the clear winner.
“We found that the majority of folks loved these new flavors. They were like, ‘Wow, I love that! That’s amazing,’” Luis said proudly. “They voted with their wallets. The people in San Antonio are the reason that our hot sauces are going to go out into the world.”
One of the major reasons why it took the couple so long to develop their product line is that they wanted them to be as sustainable as possible, using fresh ingredients that are locally sourced to support Texas farmers, which allows them to maintain both the high quality and transparency to their customers.
“What we do is part of a greater plan to set an example and show other food manufacturers how to implement more sustainable practices in our industry,” Luis said. “We’re excited to get out there and shift the future towards sustainable agriculture.”
What’s next for Humble House? By the beginning of 2017, you should be able to buy their hot sauces in a nearby H-E-B.
“As one of our H-E-B Quest for Texas Best winners, we will continue to work with Humble House Foods to develop their line of ‘flavor first’ sauces and feature the product in our stores,” Hall said.
In the meantime, you can always find them at the Pearl Farmers Market on weekends.
Top image: Chef Morales makes his winning hot sauce. Photo courtesy of Humble House.