There are two distinct sides to Kamaal Jarrett.
First, is his Jamaican side. His parents immigrated to America when he was 3, and his life has been full of Caribbean flavor and stories of his home country. But then comes his upbringing, which was wholly American — Jarrett was raised in Milton, Mass., attended University of Massachusetts at Amherst and worked in finance for most of his adult life.
It’s when the two sides collide that you get Jarrett and his “baby” — a two-year-old hot sauce company called Hillside Harvest.
“The idea is that this product is the combination of my two influences – my Caribbean culture and my Milton experience,” he said. “The overarching goal will always be to stay true to a multicultural view. We’re either providing a new twist on a Caribbean recipe, or bringing a new and unique product to our American customers.”
Jarrett officially launched Hillside Harvest in January of 2019, and takes his mission of combining Caribbean flavors with American influence seriously. The company’s logo — a purple mountain range — is symbolic of where he was born, near the red hills outside of Kingston, and where he was raised, near the Blue Hills Reservation in Milton.
Growing up, Jarrett said food was always a part of his life. His spent time in a bakery his aunt owned and his parents cooked nothing but Caribbean food at home. But he’d also watch cooking shows and eat American foods at friends’ houses.
“I’d share family dishes and recipes with friends, and I’d share the recipes my friends’ parents made or I saw on TV with my own family,” he said. “So, throughout my life, the option or potential of going to cooking school or doing an apprenticeship was always there. It’s always been nagging at me.”
It was after years working in product development for the Keurig Dr. Pepper company that he realized he could make the jump to an artisan company of his own. Jarrett said it was hard to leave the job he loved, but that he’d always wanted his own space in the food world.
“I enjoy cooking so much,” he said. “You can really brighten someone’s day or change their perspective. It’s selfish in a way – I’m able to make myself happy by providing things to other people.”
When Jarrett started Hillside, he launched the company with two signature hot sauces — Original Hot Pepper and Pineapple Fresno. The original came from more than a year of experimenting and working backwards from Jamaican jerk flavors, he said, and is made with traditional ingredients like ginger, scotch bonnet peppers, honey, lemon and garlic.
“You get this unique flavor and only people who really love jerk would even be able to get that’s where it came from,” he said. “It was a hit, people loved it. It has that sweetness and the growing heat that is the trademark of a scotch bonnet. People reacted really well to it.”
Pineapple Fresno is a mild, sweet sauce that Jarrett calls a “light, entry-level sauce.” Last year, Hillside released its third hot sauce, a savory option called Sun Kissed Tomato, and will soon release its first marinade – a Jamaican jerk.
All of the sauces are made by Jarrett and his volunteer team of family and friends at a commercial kitchen in Boston. At the start, Jarrett said they would churn out about 120 bottles per five or six-hour “shift,” once per month. Now, they’re in the kitchen twice per month and make 600 or 700 bottles on each go.
The popularity of small batch hot sauces has been on the rise for years, and Jarrett knows his company exists in a competitive space. He says it’s underlying flavor, not heat for the sake of it, that makes his sauces stand out.
We build our brand on flavor before everything,” he said. “I’m OK with not being the spiciest hot sauce on the market. I’m OK if someone tells me they eat ghost peppers and my sauce isn’t spicy enough. But I want them to tell me it tastes awesome. If the flavor is right, we can add spice. and from there, we want to make sure we are blending those Caribbean and American flavors and influences. We’re trying to provide something new.”
Hillside sauces are sold in specialty shops across New England, as well as several Whole Foods grocery stores. Jarrett has dreams of his sauces ending up on tables in restaurants in hotels, but says artisan shops and specialty stores are the backbone of his businesses. Jarrett is also a regular at a number of farmers markets.
Each hot sauce costs $9, and a variety pack of all three is available at hillsidesauce.com.
Photos in this post were taken by the wonderfully talented Greg Derr. They were originally published in The Patriot Ledger.