Claudia Fenn’s Uncle (Tio) Simon taught her how to make authentic chimichurri and picante sauces essential to Colombian cuisine. The condiments were always on the family’s table in the coastal city of Barranquilla, Colombia, and enjoyed at every meal, breakfast through dinner.
“We slathered Uncle Simon’s sauces on everything — steak, bread, potatoes, empanadas,” said Fenn, who moved here in 1996 with Cargill, and was soon followed by her brother Alfonso Chicre. He came for college and then began a career in business.
“Whenever Alfonso and I returned to the States from visiting our family in Colombia, we’d lug suitcases bulging with Uncle Simon’s latest creations. Our friends and neighbors would go crazy for them. So we decided to try our hand making them ourselves,” Fenn said.
“It took a while for folks who grew up here to understand the difference between these picante sauces and traditional salsas,” Fenn said. “The flavors in our picante and chimichurri sauces are more flavorful, so we tell people to save their corn chips for salsa and use our sauces to add bold and unique flavors to everyday foods.”
The picante sauces are a tangy blend of bell peppers, cilantro, habaneros and garlic. They brighten up dishes of eggs, chicken and fish. Swirl them into mayonnaise for a sandwich spread and add them to soups and stews as a seasoning. Chimichurri is tart with red wine vinegar, plenty of garlic, fresh parsley, cilantro and onions. It makes a great marinade for steak, pork and chicken. It’s terrific on grilled fish, tossed with pasta and stirred into rice. These simple sauces make for easy entertaining, and make even the plainest foods taste great.
“Our goal is to share the brilliant flavors of our Colombian culture,” said Chicre.
In 2010, Fenn and Chicre began replicating their Uncle Simon’s recipes in Fenn’s kitchen to sell at the Minneapolis and Linden Hills farmers markets.
“As soon as people tasted them, they’d buy them. They’re so fresh and bright because we use local herbs and spices,” she said. “No matter how many jars we’d bring with us, we’d sell out every time.”
Buoyed by their success, they made plans to increase production. They worked with AURI (Agricultural Utilization Research Institute), a state-funded organization that supports food entrepreneurs who create products with Minnesota-grown foods.
“AURI’s scientists guided us in refining our recipes and the marketing folks helped us decide on packaging, create a website and design labels,” said Fenn. The duo moved out of her home into Kindred Kitchen, a commercial space in Minneapolis, and began applying their combined business experience and graduate studies to their enterprise.
Uncle Simon’s Traditions includes three different picante sauces — spicy, medium and mild (the tamest for our northern tastes) and authentic chimichurri. Find them on shelves at Lakewind’s foods co-ops, farmers markets and specialty stores. The 6-ounce jars retail for $8. For recipes with the sauces, see unclesimons.com.