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JAMAICAN HEAT WITH SPICE AND A LITTLE SWEETNESS, MARKETING A TASET FROM THE CARIBBEAN

Will you quench me while I'm thirsty?

Would you cool me down when I'm hot?

Your recipe, darlin', is so tasty

So stir it up, little darlin', stir it up.
-- A Bob Marley song

Audley McLean, 65, does a great deal of stirring. And while he stirs, he remembers the Jamaican house where he was born.

"I was born in Manchester, on the west coast up in the mountains," he says. "The Jamaican allspice berry grew all around me. The berry (it looks like a black peppercorn) was used to season jerk chicken and pork. People sold them at the roadside. They used to smoke chicken over the allspice leaves."

McLean also remembers the heat of the Scotch bonnet (habanero) peppers that are so common in Jamaican cooking. This small, irregularly shaped chile is reputed to be the strongest on the planet.

McLean left his native country when he was 20, eventually coming to Buffalo as a minister and helping to form Urban Christian Ministries. (He still serves on its board.)

During those days he was constantly busy, but "still, I couldn't get those flavors out of my head. I had the taste in my head and I had to get it out."

The result: McLean's Jamaican Gourmet Hot Sauce, made from a "secret mix" of eight spices.

"It took about three years to work it out in my kitchen," McLean says.

"I'm not a chef. I'm in the people business," says this former minister, who retired as vice president of corporate employee relations at Marine Midland Bank last year. McLean still conducts diversity seminars for the bank.

"I take a day to try to teach the importance of cross-cultural relationships. The 21st century will be like nothing we have ever experienced. It will be increasingly rich with diversity of color, culture, language, differently abled people and much more," he says.

In his spare time, McLean stays busy developing another kind of cross-culturalism -- a culinary one.

He works on new products with a Jamaican twist, inspired, perhaps, by the pots of Scotch bonnet peppers growing on the patio of his East Aurora home. Salad dressing, maybe? A marinade?

It's not an easy process.

Even developing the Jamaican Gourmet Hot Sauce was far from simple.

"The first sauce I developed was very hot," says McLean. "People advised me that it was too hot, in fact."

One friend, Ken Kerber, a well-known professional cook who often gives classes in this area, was especially helpful in adjusting the flavors, McLean explains.

"It was all pure habanero," Kerber says, referring to that early sauce. "It was all heat. It simply didn't have enough other flavors.

"Everyone has a hot sauce on the market today. I thought Audley had to add something to make his sauce different from everything else."

And so McLean added fruits such as cranberries, peaches and apples (he advertises that his sauce has "North American fruit and Jamaican spices"), and now the sauce has a definite sweetness and much more depth.

The sauce, bottled in Hamburg, sells in local supermarkets and in specialty stores as far away as Toronto. McLean is developing recipes using the sauce in dishes such as stir fries, where, he says, "it brings out the taste of almost everything."

He also demonstrates the product extensively. Recently, he was at A Taste of Buffalo passing out portions of such Jamaican favorites as Red Beans and Rice, and Jerk Chicken, which utilize the sauce.

He has appeared on "AM Buffalo" and will be at Premier Gourmet on Aug. 30.

McLean also helps put on "restaurant nights" at local eating places -- sometimes to mixed reviews. At a fund-raiser for the East Aurora Historical Society for 200 people at the Roycroft Inn, things went very well.

"The food was extremely well-received," innkeeper Martha Augat says.

But that wasn't the case at the Wilson House Inn, in Wilson.

"We didn't get a crowd, although we advertised and the food was terrific," said manager Lou Ligammari. "We had a steel drum band and had to charge admission, so maybe that discouraged people.

"And, of course, this is a small town," Ms. Ligammari says.

McLean admits that not every Western New Yorker is tuned into spicy or Jamaican food. We tend to have conservative taste buds in this part of the country, and "older people might be reluctant to try" Jamaican food, he says.

But there's plenty of room for expansion here, and who would know better than McLean that there is great cultural diversity in Western New York? He points out that when the Buffalo School Board advertised for teachers of English as a second language, it sought people bilingual in any of 32 languages -- "everything from Amharic (Ethiopian) to Spanish," McLean says.

"But, unlike Toronto, our restaurants and grocery stores don't always show that diversity. There is no Ethiopian restaurant, no Cuban, no Chilean," he points out.

And as far as Jamaican food goes, there are only two (very small) restaurants in town and probably only one grocery store that stocks many Caribbean items.

"Still, our taste buds are awakening," McLean insists.

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