Interview: Méline’s Sauce founders Thomas Middleton and Méline Liu
What happens when you cross a Chinese artist and a chef who's worked in some of the world's best restaurants..
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Méline’s Sauce was founded by chef Thomas Middleton and Chinese artist Méline Liu, from Liaoning in north China. The company currently has two products: Chinese Sauce and Chilli Sauce.
We speak to Thomas and Méline about what makes their sauces special, Sichuan cuisine, and working with some of the world's best chefs.
How did Méline’s sauce get started?
Meline always brought back her own grandma’s chilli sauce from China to use in her cooking in France, and then the UK. She didn’t enjoy her food as much without a little spice from her home country. We tried to find something similar in the UK and in France, but we struggled.
That’s when I [Thomas] decided to make it for her, from her grandma’s recipe. We thought, 'this is really quite good, we could sell this, let’s make it for your friends and see'. Soon we realised everyone wanted a jar, so we decided to take the jump and create our new business to provide sauces to people who enjoy different spicy flavours. We quickly fell in love with our brand and decided to put all our focus into it, and our lives.
How did the two of you meet?
We met in Paris. Our common interest in food and art meant we immediately enjoyed each other’s company. We then decided to go on and form a partnership to make our sauces for friends, and then we formed Méline’s.
How did you go about developing the recipe for the Chinese and chilli sauce?
It took two years to develop our sauces, I went to Sichuan in China to discover all the amazing flavours, then I used all my training in some of the best restaurants in the world to create our sauces. My creations are classic Chinese with a slight Western twist which I created by drawing on all of the techniques I had learnt in the trade over the years.
What are your backgrounds?
Thomas: I have been a chef for many years. I’ve been lucky to have worked in some of the best restaurants in the world, and among the greatest chefs, including Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons with two Michelin stars, and Alain Passard at restaurant Arpege with three Michelin stars. I started as chef de partie and then moved up to second chef. From this position, I had the chance to experience running a three-star kitchen. I was constantly searching for the best kitchens that existed, so I could learn as much as possible, develop technical skills, and have the use of the very best produce.
I also won a few competitions on the way, as I thought this was a great way of testing and pushing myself to progress further. I won a gold medal in ‘The World Skills UK 2008’, as well as other competitions. After I discovered the history, philosophy, and richness of Asian cuisine, I just had to go to China and experience it myself. It opened me up to seeing things from another perspective, and the ideas just started to come. After experimenting and adding to my repertoire, I decided to make Chinese Sichuan sauces.
Méline: Méline Liu is Chinese. She studies art and is passionate about the cuisine of her country. Her dream was to feed on her experiences gained by travelling the world. She decided to leave her hometown of Liao Ning to explore the world and discover different cultures. She has a Masters in art marketing and studied Photoshop at length, as you can see through the branding of Méline’s, which is all her hard work. She loves to create and paint as often as possible – one day she could be a great artist.
Thomas, what was it like working in some of the best restaurants in the world?
It was truly inspirational. It was hard work, but at the same time, a lot of fun. I learnt to work to a very high standard, always striving for perfection. At times it wasn’t easy, but in turn, that’s what made it so worthwhile and rewarding.
Thomas, what’s the best food/kitchen advice you've ever had?
There are so many different tips and advice you learn when working in professional kitchens. I would have to say the best advice I was ever given was to always put the same amount of care and passion into every dish that you make, as you are only as good as your last dish. Or you can think that you’re going to cook for someone you really care about. If you think like this, it may well be tiring, but you will develop a habit of consistently hitting high standards. Then it will become second nature.
What’s your favourite way to use the Chinese sauce and chilli sauce?
For the Chinese sauce, I enjoy this the most just simply sautéd with some prawns, slice spring onions, freshly chopped coriander and a squeeze of lime. Serve straight away with a couple of pieces of freshly baked bread. Great!
For the Chilli sauce, I just love to put our chilli sauce into noodles. When you add the sauce, all the spices and flavours go into the broth and just make it super tasty, and then the oil sits on top. When you pull the noodles up they get a little bit coated in the spicy Sichuan oil. Tasty!
How would you describe the sensation of eating a Sichuan peppercorn?
Sichuan pepper has a slightly citrusy flavour that is sharply followed by strong peppery taste which then develops into an unusual numbing tingling sensation. You are then left with the flavour in your mouth for almost a minute, which just makes you want to eat more.
What’s the best traditional dish from the Sichuan region?
I just love hotpot. This is a dish that has a simmering pot of broth with Sichuan peppers, chillies and all different spices infused into it, placed in the middle of the table. You then get an amazing array of finely sliced meats, fish and vegetables. You just drop what you would like into the infused spicy broth, wait a minute or two, take it out, and enjoy. This is accompanied by a fantastic savoury sesame sauce. It’s awesome with a group of friends as you can help each other out with the cooking, and just have a great amount of fun. Highly recommended.
What’s next for Méline’s sauce?
The next steps for Méline’s sauce is that we just want to grow our family of subscribers, help them with our recipes, and bring out new and exciting products for them, which are always healthy and super tasty. We have just developed a brand new chilli Sichuan pepper oil that has a unique taste, full of flavour. We are quite proud of our new product.