I’m a big believer in things always happening for a reason and I want to share this story, because maybe it might inspire you to take up an opportunity that might present itself to you and see where it takes you. Here’s a few things that happened to me last year in 2020, with one thing leading to another, that has now led to this product and business, Chilli Oil on Everything.
It all started in February 2020, with a humble chilli oil recipe that was shared on my Instagram. I had been asked for my chilli oil recipe when I had previously shared some dumplings I made with homemade chilli oil on my Instagram a few months prior to that. I shared the recipe via my Instagram stories in a step-by-step format, saved it down as a ‘highlight’ and from there, a few of my friends started making it.
Within a few weeks, I was fatefully made redundant from my Marketing & PR job in the beauty industry just as COVID-19 was announced as a global pandemic and Melbourne was due to go into its first lockdown. Struggling to find a new job during lockdown 1.0, I spent most of my time doing what I love most, cooking. I cooked all the dishes I loved and ones I had been meaning to try, documenting the whole process via my stories and saving them as highlights just like my chilli oil recipe. It seemed I wasn’t the only one who wanted to cook in lockdown, as each day I’d wake up to new followers and started seeing not only people I knew but also so many others who I didn’t, strangers on the internet making the recipes I was sharing and tagging me in them. Of all the recipes, my chilli oil recipe was by far (and still is to this day) one of the most popular recipes I saw people make.
I quickly realised that people wanted fun, delicious and easy to follow recipes and so I decided to invest the next 6 months to put all of my effort into sharing as many recipes as I could and seeing where it could take me.
By August 2020, an old friend and colleague of mine reached out and asked if I’d be interested in running a competition with her and helping support her business. Her business was Cargo Crew, who makes modern uniforms and the best aprons, one which I had used for 5 years and loved. I of course said yes and decided to create a ‘money can’t buy’ prize, where I’d cook 6 jars of my chilli oil that 3 people could win for them and a friend and also win a Cargo Crew apron. I shared the competition on my Instagram and it blew up with over 3,800 entries and so many people then messaging me asking if they could buy the chilli oil off me.
After that competition, I realised there was a demand for my chilli oil as a product and my friend Felicity, pitched the idea of working together again, doing a fun gift set that would include my favourite Cargo Crew apron. I pitched back the idea to manufacture and release my chilli oil as a product that would be part of the gift pack. It started as an idea to maybe do 50 packs and then we both decided to go hard or go home and we agreed on a target to make 1000 of these by November.
From there, I did a whole lot of research and decided to brief a contract manufacturer to help me produce my chilli oil, since I had no prior experience in food manufacturing. All seemed well until one month before the product was due to Cargo Crew, the contract manufacturer pulled out on me, saying they were too busy to make it for me.
Feeling flat but not defeated, I explained the situation to Cargo Crew, promising to figure out a way to find a solution, even if I had to find a commercial kitchen and cook it all myself. As it turned out, they actually had a barely used commercial kitchen in their office and generously offered it up to me to manufacture my chilli oil. I couldn’t make up this coincidence if I tried and so I began that baptism of fire of figuring out how I could produce 1000 jars of chilli oil in a few weeks, also still in lockdown. It took a few calls to friends and suppliers, meetings with the local council, a few inspections, a whole lot of permit and insurance approvals and finally a few weeks later, I spent a whole weekend with my mum and my two best friends cooking 250 litres of chilli oil that would become 1000 jars.
My first release of chilli oil and gift set collaboration with Cargo Crew launched in November and we were overwhelmed with the support! By Christmas, we pretty much sold just shy of 1000 gift sets and then proceeded to sleep all of Christmas break after a massive effort by all involved!
Fast forward to 2021 and given the success of my first release of chilli oil, I’ve decided to cook a second batch (again at Cargo Crew’s commercial kitchen, thank you!) and finally sell it as a product that you can purchase from my website, which brings you here!
2020 might not have been what any of us expected, but even when social distancing kept us apart, food brought people together. And for me, my chilli oil recipe was one of the first recipes I had shared that brought people to my Instagram, continues to bring people together, bringing a bit of joy and spice to their lives. I truly hope that never changes.
If you have managed to read this far, firstly thank you for your attention and for taking the time to read this. I hope it inspires you in some way. If you’ve bought a jar of my chilli oil, thank you too. I truly appreciate that you’ve chosen to support my business. You’re helping me turn my dreams into a reality. Also know that this is not where this story ends. To be continued...
Jessica Nguyen 🌶 Xx