Talking to… Ozi Lala

We first came across Ozi when reviewing one of his sauces as part of a subscription box, and we just had to find out more about this guy. Jamie got to know him better…

Ozi is a Turkish born man, who spent 15 years working in Prague before moving to the UK with his wife and twins some 5 years ago. Looking for a new challenge, they settled in Amersham without really knowing anyone other than his wife’s family.
The move away was a big step for Ozi in particular, he took it hard, but he found comfort in his kitchen where he could overcome his feeling of homesickness. ‘I’d fix up childhood flavours’ he said, ‘remembering the family and friends and memories I’d left behind’.
It was in this same kitchen however where Ozi built his new relationships with neighbours, and new friends, sharing his recipes of Levantine and Middle-Eastern food. ‘It was a simple way of opening doors and letting people into our lives’ he explained.
Ozi’s background in cooking landed his next chef job in London, at Honey & Smoke restaurant, but soon the balance of family life and commuting away from his girls took its toll, and so he made the decision to create the Ozi Lala Street Food Truck. ‘From here I can work as a chef, share my love of cooking, and still be at home for my family’ Ozi beamed.

Next up was the ‘Talking to…’ questionnaire. Here’s how he replied to Chilli Magazine’s ‘getting to know you’ interrogation.

What is your real name?

Ozgur but I’m known as Ozi

Ozi, can you describe your product’s logo to us, how did it come about?

It is the same typeface logo I’ve on my food truck and same brand name. This sauce was born there and it is only fair it takes its father’s name.

How and when did your sauce begin to get attention?

It is still a very new product. It was launched in end of September 2019 at the Thame Food Festival as its current retail version. But the sauce has been part of the Ozi Lala food truck since the beginning, found on all the meals its served over the last 2 years.

When did you become involved in chilli life, Ozi, do you grow your own?

I’m a trained chef, I wish I could grow my own chillies but perhaps in the future. I have a Turkish heritage even though it is a very diverse cuisine, spicy food and chillies is part of it and so it took an important part of my upbringing. But the turning point for me was when I’ve had to make drastic changes to my out of control snacking habits. I have started replacing excessive eating sweets, chocolate spreads, biscuits and cookies with chilli sauces. Every time I crave for one of those I’d instead put come chilli sauce on a piece of cracker and eat straight up. It worked, I’ve got rid of my addiction and managed to stop cravings with chillies.

Wow! what a great way to break a snack habit, well done sir!  Is that when you decided to become a sauce maker commercially?

The spark and help to make it a commercial product came from me winning the Thame Food Festival Bursary in 2019. It has kick started everything and their belief and support of the product was immense.

Do you know how many units you sell?

Scotch Amba has only fermented Scotch Bonnets in it, so not a big variety. It has been eaten by many 1000’s of people who have bought food from the Ozi Lala food truck over the last 2 years, but as in retail format it’s still a baby.

It’s a great sauce, I’m sure it’ll take off in a big way Ozi. Is there a recipe you’ve tried to produce but are yet to master?

Working on a harissa recipe at the moment.

What is the most popular product you have on the food truck?

Chicken Shawarma and Halloumi Fries

Which is your favourite chilli to eat yourself, my friend?

I enjoy Asian style fermented ones like Sriracha and hot kimchi’s

Are there any other people behind the company?

It’s only me

What do you have planned for 2020, any new campaigns, investment?

I’m looking to expand the range with some spices, perhaps blends too, and 2 more sauces –  1 is definitely spicy. All within the Levantine cuisine.

Other than chilli, what’s your favourite ingredient to work with?

Yogurt

Have you got any funny chilli stories?

Once I’ve asked in a Chinese restaurant if they have something spicy, 30 minutes later waiter comes with a big pot with a lid, with teary eyes tells me “chef’s special from Siberia” opens the lid and runs away. A military grade soup covered in whole chillies, everyone around starts coughing, rubbing eyes. I’ve finished it, a very old Chinese chef half my size came out from the kitchen and shook my hand. He was very proud, so I was.

Ah that’s a great story, you made that chef’s day! What was the last thing you ate that blew your head off?

Haynes Gourmet Candied Jalapeños

There’s loads of amazing artisan chilli sauces to enjoy, do you have a favourite?

I like the small batch artisan ones over the mass production kind, full of artificial ingredients. Most recently I’ve enjoyed the Tonkotsu brand Japanese Chilli Oil a lot.

Briefly, where can we find your product?

I’m trying to expand the network of the shops whom would like to stock my sauce, some local artisan shops, foodie places, farm shops ideally. Also possible to find them online on Amazon.

Do you visit any chilli festivals? Which is your favourite?

Yes, Chilli Festival at Waddesdon Manor is my favourite.

What advice could you offer someone wanting to make their own sauces?

It’s a very crowded market but there is a crowd interested in the market too. Who dares wins!

Has anyone famous ever tried your products, where did it happen and what did they think?

Adam Johnson, Head Development Chef of Raymond Blanc. He tried my street food at a food festival which is by default served with the sauce, 10 min later he came back and asked what is that sauce that he really loved it.

Quick-fire questions:

Milk or Beer?  Milk

Salad or roast? Roast

BBQ sauce or Ketchup? BBQ Sauce

Kylie or Metallica? Metallica

Habanero or Scotch Bonnet? Scotch

Bottle or Jar? Jar

Peri-Peri or Piri-piri? Piri Piri

korma or vindaloo? Vindaloo

Romantic meal for 2 or big family feast?  Family Feast

Food festival or music festival? Food festival

Finally, if you could cook for anyone who would it be and what would you make for them?

The replica of the Chinese Siberian soup I’ve had, for anyone who voted for Brexit!