Madame Sara is now a label selling Haitian sauce to the world

  • Posted by Marina Vatav
  • November 3, 2014 4:49 AM EST

Somewhere in their refrigerators nearly every Haitian family in Haiti or abroad have this traditional blend of spices and fresh herbs that they add to their cooking. It's their secret sauce.

In 2010, while a student of International Relations in London, Katyana André, noticed that her friends were always curious about this sauce she used in her cooking. They all liked it. Since then she has been working on perfecting the Haitian mix taught by her grandmother. She has added her personal touch to the original recipe and customized it to the point where it can be used not just for cooking, but also as a dip or salad dressing.

The brand name Madame Sara came when her classmate designed the logo for the sauce inspired from paintings of Haitian women in the marketplaces.

"It is a typical name given to women marketers in Haiti, all of them are called Madame Sara. And I said: 'This is brilliant, I'm going to call it Madame Sara's sauce,'" says Katyana.

"I've always admired these women. I've always thought that the hardest working people in Haiti are the people that are doing these types of work. My grandmother was one herself. She used to tell me stories about how she would sell in marketplaces and used that money to send her kids to school."

Katyana developed three flavors for her sauce: Cilantro Thyme Infused - Mild, Spicy Ginger Garlic - Medium, and Habanero Madness - Hot.

With the help of her classmates, she started selling the sauce in the London open air markets and in some stores.

Facing the harsh reality

When she first tried to sell her Haitian sauce, Katyana had to face the reality of Haiti's image in the world. People were hesitant about buying a Haitian product, and they did not show much interest to try it either.

Katyana remembers one instance when she was doing a tasting in a store and she had a big poster that said Haitian sauce. No one approached. As soon as she removed the word

"Haiti" from the poster and promoted the product as Caribbean, the response was very different.

"I tried removing the word Haiti from the poster and once I did, people were coming and then I would tell them afterwards that it was from Haiti. So it didn't help having Haiti in big letters. It was a sad thing to realize, but I had to make a marketing decision," shared Katyana.

"That was another reason why I continued pushing for this idea of Madame Sara, because I really wanted to get this [negative image of Haiti] out of people's heads."
The good news is that after people tasted the sauce the reaction was always "Wow". They were impressed.

Taking it to the US

After completing her studies in 2012, Katyana moved to the US and continued promoting her sauce there. The big surprise was the Diaspora's reaction to the product. Katyana did not think the sauce would interest the Haitian Diaspora as much considering that many of them make their own mix of herbs and spices that they traditionally store in their fridges. However, it did spark their interest, and now many of Madame Sara's customers are members of the Diaspora.

The business is selling mostly online and through tastings in open markets. The product doesn't use any chemicals or preservatives.

Katyana also maintains a cooking blog with "delicious images" where she shows recipes and how you can use the sauce in your cooking. One of the blog’s contributors is the Haitian Chef Lemaire who shares his cooking tips.

Bringing Haitian cuisine a step further

Katyana believes that Haiti has all it takes to sell its cuisine internationally and create a name for itself in this market.

"That's one of my dreams. It's one thing that I would love to see happen. Just like people say let's cook Jamaican tonight using their sauce, I want people to say let's cook Haitian tonight and the sauce is going to help you make it easy. We can absolutely do it; it's a matter of working together and developing ideas together within the Haitian community," noted Katyana.

Katyana's long-term plans include creating an organization that will help the Haitian women marketers to acquire new business skills.

"I think they are underestimated in the country, and their business skills are amazing. They've been doing it for years and they've been able to survive. They are the backbone of the Haitian economy, and that's the one think that I want to bring to people's attention."