Written by @loretosocorro
In the middle of a hidden orchard, on the top of a southern mountain, is where Pepe Oil welcomes us. He welcomes us with a breeze that, according to what he tells us, caresses the mountain from November to August, every year, and also with a smile that opens doors and hearts.
How did Pepeoil start?
Pepeoil started as a hobby, unintentionally wanting. I was making sauces with okra and habanero peppers until one day I saw some small bottles and I started giving them to friends, taking them to restaurants and when someone asked how spicy they were, they gave them a taste of my bottle.
And what happened when they tasted your hot sauces?
They wanted more and located me to order a box of bottles and thus I was positioning my oils in the best restaurants in the south of Gran Canaria.
Was that the beginning of the business?
No. Four years passed before I dedicated myself seriously. Those were times full of momentous changes for me and there came a time when I realized that I wanted to be happy.
Are you getting it with the Pepeoil project?
I like to receive people and people also like to be with me. Perhaps because I have grown up with it: in my family we are used to receiving people, that is the daily bread; so I said to myself: «I want to be happy and this is the way!». What I want is to work, but enjoying myself, to have the privilege of being happy with what I do.
Why the name Pepeoil?
Since I liked the rock band Red Hot and Chili Peppers, I started calling it that, with "Pepe" and "Oil" added; and from there it was derived to Pepebasco and Pepeoil.
Pepe grabs some tools and invites us to follow him around the farm, talking and fixing hoses and drippers for the irrigation system.
After starting in earnest, has the project always gone as you wanted? What adaptations have you had to make?
Some say that I changed my mind, but that's not it. The beginning point and the end point are always known, but in between we are in the ocean. My ocean can be calm for a while and, suddenly, the ship I'm sailing on runs into a storm or an iceberg... With problems on the way, what I do is an exercise in adapting to the environment.
Doesn't the success you've achieved with hot sauces overwhelm you?
Money is necessary to reach goals and build projects, without depending on anything or anyone, but then it is a means for me, not an end. This project, which is more than hot sauces, comes from the heart, without conditions. It is a mirror of what I want.
What is your dream, your challenge, then?
I love sustainable roll, for more than fifteen years –Pepe crouches down and with pruning shears cuts some roots, here and there – Look how the root protrudes. I want people to eat and drink what is produced in the garden. Over time, I will sell my brand, with my principles, to a multinational company and continue with this, return to nature…make an ecological hotel.
We continue walking and talking with Pepe who shows us his day-to-day, among olive trees, trees full of mangoes, plants where monarch butterflies will be born and a goat called Carmelo who offers him fertilizer for the earth. Pepe, do you walk and take care of the farm daily?
On Saturdays and Sundays I put on an audio book and go to work. Audiobooks help me because my mind is restless and so I am doing a physical task and my mind is also busy and developing a thought, at the same time that I carry this out. This plantation is ecological. Here I plant my own chilies, this is the hottest pepper in the world -he points out as he goes back to supervising like an experienced plumber-, is the carolina reaper pepper…
Pepe shelters with his talk in such a way that you can't stop listening to him, with a calm teaching he moves between the words, like silk on the skin
This plant must be familiar to you if you are from here: the glacial phycoid, the barilla. It is a very beautiful plant that produces a white flower: it opens at twelve in the morning and closes at six in the evening. Well, apart from how beautiful it is, it saved many people from hunger because it creates a seed that it encloses and traps in its branch before it dies. The following year, with the first rains, it opens and gives away its seed. When people were hungry, they dipped these lifeless plants in the puddles and with the seeds that remained floating they made gofio.
How do you know so much about plants?
Because I like. Since I was little I felt different and I was always very mature… I was different and I have had to fight against all odds and against prejudices. My training is ADE, aimed at hotel management, but in university careers you don't learn day to day. Currently I spend time reading, meditating and doing some sports. That helps me keep going and work on my creativity.
Where does Pepe get that resilience capacity?
Of my loneliness Once they told me that I was a free spirit and that I had to let myself fly, like a helium balloon. I have many concerns.
When did you decide to make the change and come to work the land?
I didn't decide, my body asked me to. My grandfather was a fruit exporter and I used to run away with his manager to pick peppers, tomatoes, alfalfa…he was destroying my hands…My mother and father did not stop at the land, but whether you like it or not, he called me.
Have you been learning with daily work?
The plantation has been operating since 2015 and what I have learned has been based on making mistakes..-Pepe stops again, to show us a pepper plant, already inside his nursery- look at the shape of the plant: it is an inverse pyramid. We plant in October, so that they grow quickly until December and then it stops, it stays with a regular growth...
How long does one of these pepper plants last?
It really is like any plant, olive trees can be centuries old. What is actually valued is the highest production rate, which is the first two years. We are renewing the old plants every so often. They are healthy plants and they only bring beauty, the production of peppers decreases a lot.
Beauty like that of the enormous sunflowers that sigh in the greenhouse. pepe vBy placing the herbs, some he removes and others he relocates.
We no longer plant until September, now we just control and prepare the land: plow, eliminate nematodes, they are the little worms in the soil that eat the roots, with an ecological system and prepare the farm with cruciferous plants, manure...
Between dogs and exotic birds we continue through the farm to the production room, where the final work is done, before the distribution of their hot sauces. Pepe, does the spicy kill the flavor of what comes after?
Industrial products can, because they are no more than spicy vinegars, but these sauces and oils are high-quality products and what makes this spicy is that, in its fair measure, they increase the taste for the dish.
Pepeoil you make visits with tastings in your farm, are people surprised by the spicy, when they learn to enjoy it?
We do sequential tastings, of different spices and without being afraid because Pepeoil's spicy is a handmade product. American spicy has nothing to do with this. That perception of bursting the day after using spicy is something that does not exist in Asia, because it is used in a totally different way. In India, spicy opens the taste and the palate. It's like salt: every dish needs a little bit of spice, if you put a lot of it you go overboard, but if it doesn't have it you don't take advantage of all the flavor.
There are already more than fifteen references with the Pepeoil seal: products that taste like peppers that grow in Maspalomas. Now people also want to enjoy themselves as guests at the farm. What's your secret ?
My secret is that I love being alone and it shows. I don't need anyone but, at the same time, I'm very social. What I try to combine on the farm is to live and share something more than a product, which is of quality and original, but above all it brings me new experiences.
Luna, Lola and Maru are the names of the dogs that accompany our walk and alert us to a new visit. It is a couple with their daughters.
This is not an arranged visit, but since I am open I am receiving them -Pepe approaches and speaks in English with the newcomers-, as a good host invites them to cool off with a drink before starting the tour of the farm.
Before saying goodbye, we ask Pepe what his next step will be.
We are beings in constant evolution. Now I am investing in myself, in my inner peace, in finding a balance. I will tell my daughter that she has to look for herself, listen to herself and learn. I have the hardest part: a solid base based on making mistakes, but now that I'm listening, Pepeoil is only the tip of the iceberg.
We would like to see that entire iceberg through a crack. Pepeoil has been on the covers of international magazines with his hot peppers but, as he says, there is much more on the estate and beyond. Pepeoil has shown us a man behind the brand who has an old spirit and big wings in a privileged place, with the valley at his feet.
We say goodbye to Pepe with a hug from left to left, where hearts unite, wishing to return soon to taste the spicy food in good company.