Being an entrepreneur is hard work. And if you are in the food industry, chances are you work extremely hard, especially as the holiday season approaches. As fellow entrepreneurs, know that you are not alone in your hustle. To show the public how hard our members work to make the products they buy, we spent some time with Louise and Chris, owners of Holy Duck Chili Oil, to share what a day in their life looks like.
Holy Duck Chili Oil joined Coho Commissary recently and have been working hard in and outside of the kitchen to make their dream come true. Read below about their journey to become entrepreneurs and what a usual work day looks like for them as small business owners.
Holy Duck has a wide array of products for everyone’s taste buds
Holy Duck Chili's condiment line includes both duck-fat based and plant-based, hot sauces and chili oils as well as dry-rub powders. Chef Chris also takes his time in the kitchen to carry out aromatic infusion in his chili oil creations, and triple fry the natural ingredients at specific temperatures and for a specific duration of time to release the color, aroma and flavors of the natural Canadian ingredients. Their 'naturally ducking delicious' condiments are designed to be versatile and easy to use: some drizzle as a topping, some stir fry or cook with it, some eat it as is, some even shower on their desserts.
It all started from missing the flavours of home
Holy Duck started during the pandemic when Chris Fung and Louise Pang, the husband and wife team behind the brand, re-evaluated what work and life meant to them, and decided to carry out a passion project together. Through food and art, the couple aspire to share with fellow Canadians the disappearing cultures back home in Hong Kong, and to relate to fellow newcomers on their journey becoming Asian Canadians.
The pandemic was the time everyone slowed down and re-considered their habits and perspectives. Flash back to their twenties, the fast-paced corporate life Chris and Louise experienced didn't allow them time to breathe, let alone spend time in the kitchen cooking hearty, nutritious home-cooked meals for themselves. Going home to have dinner with parents was always a treat- there's something so nurturing about mom's home-cooked meal with the right, traditional, passed-down-generations culinary technique combined with natural, fresh ingredients bought on-the-day-of from the wet market.
When Chris and Louise relocated from Hong Kong to Vancouver in February of 2020, homesickness drove them to go above and beyond to look for ways to recreate the taste of home, and all the authentic Asian flavors in their home kitchen. In Vancouver, mega chain grocery stores are selling colorful cans and packets of sauces, the majority imported from thousands of miles away from the factories in Asia.
They took a closer look at the ingredient listed which looked like a periodic table, and the way those factory-made sauces are preserved to make suitable for commercial needs, the couple's gut feeling told them those sauces having sat on the shelves for over a year couldn't be good to their body, nor the planet. Going to great lengths to dig out local hidden gems, the many neighborhood general stores, the array of locally handcrafted condiments, the couple was inspired. There is an abundance of small-batch crafted sauces using international recipes in the market to cater for the immigrant and expat-intensive Vancouver, but in the East Asian category, the couple saw much room for a wider variety and more premium quality sauces that are made with sustainability in mind, with locally sourced ingredients, to empower Vancouver locals to recreate the authentic taste of Asia at home.
When deciding on the recipe of their first product, duck fat- also known as the olive oil of animal fat- is often discarded and has an underestimated nutritional value. Louise recalled in her childhood, her grandmother used duck fat to whip up aromatic, delicious wok-fried dishes in replacement of peanut oil, which was trending back in the days but very expensive for common households like hers, which was a family of 8.
The owners’ families played a significant part in kicking off Holy Duck. For 2 decades before retirement, Chris' dad ran a Chinese restaurant and bakery which served majoritively Chinese but also pan-asian cuisines. Louise's grandmother, who passed away during the pandemic, was a chef at Japanese and Chinese kitchens in the 50s during wartime in China. Upon obtaining advice from their parents, Chris and Louise discovered the beauty of cooking with local, seasonal ingredients, and the interconnection between Asian cuisines- using spices and fermented ingredients to make dishes extra delicious. The birth of Holy Duck happened in the summer of 2021, when the couple debuted their first chili oil product. They will continue bringing the nostalgic taste of pan-asian delicacies to the households in Canada through their sauce creations and storytelling of their roots in Hong Kong.
A typical work day for Holy Duck Chili Oil
Chris and Louise arrive at the kitchen. The shift starts at 12 but they arrive prior to start to thoroughly sanitize their workstation and the cooking area. Sweep and mop the floor to get rid of all the kinks. Jarring, with food safety in mind, is a serious business.
They then head over to their dry shelf to transfer all the carefully stored ingredients- duck fat, aromatics, over 6 types of chili peppers, to their station, and begin scaling recipes.
As they wave bye and say good night to the other fellows from other businesses, they are ready for the next 8 hours of sauce making.
Chris is the main muscle in the production, in charge of the cooking, measuring ingredients, blending the chili pepper for their retail and wholesale orders, including restaurants, bakeries, general stores, pastry shops and souvenir shops.
Louise, on the other hand, pulls out her laptop and walks up to the office level to catch up with emails and order enquiries.
Chris starts the aromatic infusion process of the sauce they are making today: Holy Duck’s Chili Lava Salted Eggs. The finely rendered duck fat is starting to melt from a butter form to a state like liquid gold. A carefully curated blend of natural aromatics is infused in the oil under different temperatures over a period of time.
Each jar of this hot sauce is crafted with 3 large canadian cured duck eggs, to recreate the flavors of the Cantonese and Singaporean salted egg stir-fry dishes. Louise now then meticulously distributes the right amount of cured egg yolks into smaller batches to ensure consistency in mouthfeel, taste and quality.
The oil infusion will continue but Chris is now busy getting the jars ready to be filled with the delicious Chili Lava. To prolong the shelf life of their sauces without using preservatives or chemicals with utmost food safety in mind, Chris goes ahead to sanitize and sterilize the vessels as well as the containers before the ingredients go into the cooking vessels and containers.
Louise got a phone call from Hong Kong. It is from their brand graphic designer Dorothy. They went ahead to discuss the design drafts they came up with for their new vegan product.
Chris carefully lines up the jars in an orderly manner at the workstation. On the table is a checklist of cooking particulars like the key points in their family recipe, the sauce-solid rations which give the best mouthfeel, temperature control charts, pH requirements suggested by their food laboratory and more.
Items are checked out one by one by Louise, as Chris keeps tweaking and paddling the golden concoction to perfection.
Before going into the finishing stage, the part that requires the most attention and labor in the production, Chris asks for a sour key candy to keep his energy and spirit high for the remaining hours in the shift.
The chef is easily happy, energized and continues to stir-frying the sea of cured egg yolks and spice blend into a molten custard state.
While Chris is behind the stoves and pots, Louise shoots some footage of the texture of the Chili Lava sauce on her phone, which captions with suggested food pairings will be used and uploaded onto their Instagram page.
Now the creamy golden concoction is ready, Chris and Louise start the jarring process, with the most specific steps designed by their processing authority. Chris fills and Louise picks up and vets each jar to ensure consistency.
Over the next 3 hours, both Chris and Louise juggle between: communicating with potential retailers via email, packaging orders for local deliveries, Canada-wide and US shipping, responding to invitations to pop-up events and voice messaging with their parents back in Hong Kong.
As the sun rises, chili oil cooking tasks become order fulfillment duties as the couple wraps up any final order packing, while cleaning up their station for the next business booking it.
Fresh batches of chili oils are ready to dispatch. Chris is taping the boxes of chili oils for their retail partners, while Louise is calling them to confirm delivery time.
After a restful day, the couple returns around midnight, to repeat this whole process again.
Holidays are a very busy season for the couple
Holiday is no doubt a busier, if not one of the busiest seasons, for business no matter big or small! Especially after the pandemic, they noticed a shift in local preferences in how customers enjoy things in life - quality over quantity. Local over imported. Less food miles, more sustainable, mindful consumption habits.
Many of Holy Duck’s customers see the holiday as an opportunity to unite with friends over feasts, or throw a hotpot party with their families. Hence, they are busier in December. Also, stockists and wholesalers usually place bigger orders in November to secure the freshest batches of our chili oils. They make time to plan their supplies ahead to cope with the higher demands.
Looking forward to what 2023 brings
Chris and Louise aim to keep sourcing local, keep it proudly made in Vancouver, and supporting more local farms. Sourcing Lion's Manes by Forij Mushrooms Abbotsford for their new vegan chili oil has been a great start. The couple’s goal next year is to engage and create with more local, like-minded businesses.
They are still a very young brand- like a sponge- they would love to absorb the wisdom and inspirations the small business world has to offer. There’s no better way than running a business to know about the city’s culture and people. Holy Duck is excited to contribute to the Vancouver ecosystem with their Hong Kong Cantonese background, eager to keep the culture alive altogether!
If you are interested in joining a 24h kitchen and working alongside hustling small businesses owners like Chris and Louise, click here to learn about our multiple commissary locations and memberships available.