It was only two years ago that Nafi's Condiments and Sauces—a line of habanero-based pepper sauces and pastes—was launched in New York City, but the journey that led to Nafissatou Camara's jumpstarting her business began many years before.
In the 1950's, Nafissatou (nicknamed Nafi) moved from France to Senegal to find her father, and she immediately became enamored by the culture she discovered there. Her main influence was her grandmother, also named Nafissatou. "She became my best friend, and even before I could understand the language she spoke, she shared with me her love of cooking, the wonderful recipes that she loved to prepare for the family I was just reunited with." Nafi's Condiments and Sauces is a tribute to her.
Camara makes seven products, including five "hot pepper condiments" and two "original sauces." The flavors range from cumin to coconut curry-yam to mango-tamarind, though they're all based on fiery-but-fruity habanero chilies. The sauces are made at La Marqueta in Harlem; Nafi's sauces is an incubate business in the Hot Bread Kitchen Incubates program.
Nafi's condiments distinguish themselves from other pepper sauces by being made with habaneros and scotch bonnet peppers, the same ingredients that are used in her region of Senegal. "They are unique not just for their level of heat but for their intense and bold taste." Nafi recommends the condiments be used for quick meat and vegetable marinades to hummus stir-ins and easy add-ons for grain dishes. Her personal favorite sauce is the cumin: "It is amazing to cook, grill, or simply put on toasted bread and enjoy with goat cheese and figs."
As her business grows, Nafi hopes to pay homage to the people of Senegal; she aspires to soon be able to purchase peanut butter from a Senegalese source. "Several women groups in rural areas there formed cooperatives that aim to improve the lives of women through the culture of peanuts. One of my goals is to be able to make an impact on women's lives in developing countries."
At this point, Nafi almost single-handedly runs her company, except for the help of her daughters and a part-time social media person. That being said, she is looking to hire more people, expand distribution, and maybe even open her own restaurant one day.
In the meantime, her company is growing every day. Her products can be found at Greene Grape Provisions in Brooklyn and Gracefully on the Lower East Side, as well as at the Green Flea Market on the Upper West Side, and pretty soon at the Whole Foods on 97th and Columbus. In addition, you can purchase the condiments on her website.
About the author: Ari Rudess is a Serious Eats intern and student at Wesleyan University. You can check out her Wesleyan food blog at www.wesstuffed.com