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Bernie Bumm man aims to spice up our lives with chilli sauces

Earl Gough specialises in chilli sauces but if they're hot now, it seems we haven't tasted anything yet...

Earl Gough from the Bernie Bumm sauce company
Earl Gough from the Bernie Bumm sauce company

Imagine the scene if you will. A boozy stay-at-home get together with the lads ends with the inevitable take-out curry order.

One, his inhibitions swept aside on a tide of real ale, decides he needs to prove just how macho he really is and goes for the hottest dish on the menu.

The said curry arrives, so devilishly blistering even the tin foil container is struggling to hold it back. The sauce, which has the consistency of molten lava and the character of battery acid, eats away at everything it comes into contact with.

Even breathing it in brings tears to the eyes.

Undeterred, the drinking buddies all decide to get stuck in to the hottest curry in the world, to see which among them can brave the heat unscathed.

It’s at this point that Earl Gough experienced a turning point in his life.

As he encountered the combined rush of heat and flavour he didn’t leap up and rush around the room of his Gosforth, Newcastle, home frantically seeking relief.

Neither was he forced to make a mad dash to the nearest accident and emergency department as the evil sauce slowly but surely overran his body.

Earl did get hot under the collar, however. But in an ‘I’ve had a brilliant idea so will you all shut up and listen to me’ kind of way.

The 40-year-old calls it his ‘Eureka!’ moment when he realised his future may not lie in asset management but instead with the hottest current food trend: chillies.

Bernie Bumm chilli sauces
Bernie Bumm chilli sauces

There and then he announced to everyone and no-one in general: “We should create our own super-hot sauces using the world’s hottest chillies!”

A drunken idea was born.

But while the rest of the beer drinking/curry eating crowd promptly forgot Earl’s pronouncement, he didn’t.

He awoke not just with a hangover the following morning but a burning desire to act on his words.

There followed weeks and months of researching the hottest chillies from across the globe and concocting scalding sauces.

He and his brave (some may say mad) comrades-in-arms worked their way through scores of different recipes devised by Earl in his domestic kitchen before they all agreed on the fiercest formula.

So it was that the aptly named ‘Original’ super-hot sauce, made from the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion chilli, the world’s second hottest, was born.

As the hapless testers quickly discovered, it’s a sauce that keeps on giving.

“We found the next day was very painful,” Earl says with a twinkle in his eye.

Gripped by the chilli sauce-making bug, he kept tweaking his recipe.

Twelve months on and many saucepans later, he had not only created three other mind-bending condiments – Original Garlic, again made with Trinidad Moruga Scorpion chillies; Rim Reaper, which uses the world’s hottest, the Carolina Reaper; and Original Smoky, which features the milder jalapeno chipotle – but decided the time was right to unleash his carefully crafted creations on an unsuspecting world.

Earl Gough from the Bernie Bumm sauce company
Earl Gough from the Bernie Bumm sauce company

In April this year, Bernie Bumm joined a growing list of North East-made chilli sauces sating the public’s keen appetite for all things hot.

If you’re wondering about the name of Earl’s fledgling venture, it’s a play on words. It was his long-suffering wife, Suzie, 40, a train driver with Northern Rail, who came up with the name, inspired by a well documented side-effect of eating chillies.

“It’s a bit in your face,” Earl admits. “But it’s well known that eating spicy food makes your bum burn!

“At one point, when I was testing three or four sauces a night, the side effects were so awful I was putting a toilet roll in the fridge!

“I don’t take myself too seriously, though, and my view since the start has been that if the business really takes off, which I hope it does, then I want that sense of humour to be retained.

“You can still be professional while having a laugh and a bit of fun.”

The eyebrow-raising name doesn’t seem to have put customers off.

Earl, who has been selling at food festivals, Newcastle’s Sunday Quayside Market and via his website, is already taking repeat orders and has recently launched a range of tie-in sausages and burgers seasoned with his Bernie Bumm sauces.

“The burgers and sausages have proved really popular, especially with barbecue season upon us,” he says. “Bernie Bumm has taken off really quickly and I have already had to start spreading my wings.

“I get home from work, start making sauces at 7pm and finish about 1am. I obviously knew the sauces were good and believed in them, but the speed with which Bernie Bumm has caught the public’s imagination has really surprised me.”

While he isn’t planning on giving up his day job any time soon, Earl has already approached a food manufacturer with a view to making the sauces for him.

It would be music to Suzie’s ears. Each batch of sauce, which takes around five hours to create, from the chopping to the bottling, is still being made in the kitchen of the Goughs’ semi-detached home.

Producing it is every bit as intense as the end result.

So potent are the chillies Earl is using that he dons a mask and disposable white coveralls and gloves while working and has to keep the back door and windows open.

“You can’t breathe these chillies in, they are so strong,” he says.

“The Carolina Reaper is the Guinness World Record holder for the hottest chilli and averages around 1.569 million on the Scoville scale (the official measurement of the spicy heat of chillies), peaking at an eye-watering 2.2 million.

“It’s not overkill to wear a mask. If I didn’t, the vapours could well knock me out and I would put myself out of action for the rest of the day.”

One can only envisage how disagreeable it must be for Suzie, watching TV in the living room.

But Earl says she is supportive of his kitchen table undertaking.

In reality, he has had a passion for hot food for at least the past decade. Someone gave him a bottle of the American-produced Dave’s Insanity Sauce – which has been rated at 180,000 Scoville units (Tabasco sauce only comes in at around 2,500 to 5,000) – which “blew my mind.

“That was when I suppose the first seeds of Bernie Bumm were sown, which all led down the path to that particular drinking night.”

Earl is far from being the only person who enjoys spicing up food, however.

Chillies have become something of a must-use ingredient in recent years. It seems the hotter the food the more people want it.

A number of fiery sauces have been launched on to the market. Chefs and restaurants are experimenting with increasingly hot food and events dedicated to these super-hot capsicums – like the North East Chilli Festival which is set for its fourth outing on July 4 and 5 at Seaton Delaval Hall – are popping up across the country.

Not bad for a nation once famous for its allegedly unsophisticated and even bland food.

Why does Earl think we have suddenly developed a thirst for sauces and dishes that set our mouths on fire?

“The chilli industry is the biggest growing food sector at the moment. It has gone mental. It is growing at a staggering speed across the country.

“I think people’s palettes are changing. We are going abroad more than ever and I think, as a result, people have become more adventurous and want to spice up their lives.

“Also, while we have been importing spices from across the globe from the year dot, chillies were harder to get until fairly recently. But now people are cooking with them and realising that eating chillies gives you an endorphin rush (euphoric high) and that they can make you feel really good.

“And once they discover this they want to try ever more hot sauces and food.”

Step up Earl to fill the heat void.

He is not resting on his laurels, though. He is developing an even hotter sauce than those he already sells.

“It is going to be extreme,” he promises. “I am using a concentration of chillies. The Carolina Reaper has a build-up of heat while the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion gives an immediate fiery burst.

“If I mix them together with other ingredients I can create that extra, instant heat that will blow your head off.”

Imagine, if you will, a group of men at the end of a drunken night arguing about who can eat the hottest curry…

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