A chat with… Dan Reed from Chilli of the Valley

18 August 2023 - Written By

Alex 'Juan Cheep' Beames


Half of Alex and Vikki Chilli Reviews on YouTube. Part of the NEUK Chilli-heads Admin team on Facebook. Usually found at chilli festivals trying anything in a taster pot, or helping dish out the rounds in chilli eating competitions!

In this interview I chat to the legend that is Dan Reed from Chilli of the Valley – hot sauce producer extraordinaire bringing heat & flavour from the heart of Wales…

Alex: There seems to be a backstory to all chilli producer’s beginnings. It might have started as a bit of a hobby or to challenge your friends to eat etc. How did you start, and at what point did you decide that you wanted to take it to the next level?

Saucy Dan Reed

Dan: From a relatively young age I’ve had an interest in hot food. I have fond memories of growing up and my dad making big pots of curry for the family (and a smaller saucepan of veggie curry for me!). Growing up in the 80’s as a vegetarian was a lot more complicated than it is now, and for me it’s not really a life choice – I have an intolerance to the proteins in meat, so from a young age we cut out meat completely from my diet. I guess my tolerance to hot food then developed over the years – in addition to my dad’s home-made curries, if we ate out, or got takeaway, we’d tend to veer towards Asian cuisine as it would have a more natural selection of vegetarian friendly dishes. I guess over the years then I found myself eating hotter and hotter meals.

The growing chillies developed over time. I was given my first plant by a friend, in my early twenties (about 25 years ago!!) it was a Ring of Fire! When I realised how easy it was to grow them, I started planting more and more seeds from the fruit it produced and started giving seedlings and plants to pretty much anyone who’d take one. I developed a bit of an obsession from this one plant and started looking for more varieties to grow. My wife travels a lot with her work, often internationally, so any time she’d go abroad I’d always research the native capsicum varieties and give her a shopping list of things to search for. Reflecting back now I’m sure she used to hate going on wild goose chases for elusive chilli seeds for me! Wherever possible I’d look for new seeds to buy online or in garden centres, or swaps with other growers I started befriending on social media. At my last count I have somewhere around 450 different varieties of chilli seed.

Being a veggie, I found it easier cooking my own meals. I also enjoy cooking, which helps! I also used to spend a fortune buying chilli sauces. Then one day a friend pointed out that I enjoyed cooking, had a pretty hefty range of my own chillies, and loved chilli sauce… why didn’t I have a go at making my own… so I did. I figured it was new thing to do with the spicy fruit I was growing too, after all there’s only so many chillies you can dry, freeze, powder, flake; give to friends, neighbours and family. So, I had a go at making some sauce. It was awful!  It took a few attempts, but each variation I made had different qualities – consistency/viscosity, heat, flavour. It was as if a new world had been opened up to me!

My sister bought a guest house in Aberystwyth, and converted it to a boutique hotel. They had a small restaurant attached which went on to win a number of awards. One weekend we visited and I had a cheeseboard for dessert. It came with an onion marmalade, and whilst it was nice, I felt I could do better. My sister challenged me to do so and so I did. She ended up serving my Chipotle Onion Marmalade with the cheeseboard, and with that Chilli of the Valley was born.

For some considerable time. my sister was my only customer. But over time the friends, family and neighbours I used to force the sauces on to started asking to purchase them, and the hobby began to earn back a little money to reinvest. From there I attended my first school fayre and things just kind of spiralled from there. As of August 2023, Chilli of the Valley is now officially 11 years old (which seems crazy as the time has seriously flown).   

A: So, let’s bring things up to date. You have recently released LSD (Lick, Shoot, Devour) and the Reaper Roulette League of Fire Challenges. What was the idea behind these devilishly hot ones?

Chilli of the Valley’s Reaper Roulette Challenge

D: The Roulette has been a work in progress since September 2021. Getting the box right was always the main sticking point, and I’d never gotten a box design made before so that was a pretty steep learning curve! I make a roulette peanuts tub, which consists of 90% mildly spiced peanuts and 10% reaper covered peanuts. People LOVE it. But whilst the reaper peanuts are pretty perky, I wouldn’t say they truly live up to the roulette concept though in that once you take a “live” peanut it’s game over. The sauce version takes it to the next level though in that the “live” round really does hurt. A lot! The concept is that like the traditional Russian Roulette game in that you have 5 “blanks” which in our case is a Jalapeno based sauce, and 1 “live” which is Reaper, Trinidad Scorpion, 9 million SHU extract and 15.2 Million SHU capsaicin crystal based sauce. The box is designed to resemble the circular chamber of a revolver and the sauce is held in 30ml “shot” bottles, which resemble the bullets in the chamber. 5 blanks, 1 live. Ideally, it’s played with two or more people who take turns in chugging, or shooting, the sauce in a randomly selected bottle. If you get the wrong one then it’s lights out! I first started off by making the “blanks” a no heat sauce, but then the mischievous part of me decided it would be more fun to make it jalapeno based so it would have an initial worry of a tickle of heat for the unsuspecting participants. It takes a few seconds for the heat of the “live” round to kick in so you’re left in a sort of limbo for a minute or so.

Chilli of the Valley’s LSD (Lick, Shoot, Devour)

The LSD follows the concept of the Tequila slammer process in that you Lick the smoked reaper infused salt, Shoot the tequila flavoured shot bottle of sauce (which is made with habaneros and 6.4 million SHU extract), and then finally Devour the flesh of the 500,000 SHU infused candied lime. The working name for this had always been the slammer, but with an existing LOF challenge of a similar name I knew I couldn’t call it that. In all fairness to her, Shahina came up with the suggestion for LSD. As soon as she suggested it I fell in love with the name. It kind of works on a couple of levels as it’s the initials of each step of the process, but kind of rings true with the surreal outer body funkiness you get from the capsaicin cramps from taking on the challenge! I’ve always been a fan of tequila slammers, and the idea for this one came up one inebriated evening. I can’t remember much from the night, but the chilli themed challenge definitely stuck in my mind. The salt and sauce parts were pretty straight forward, it was the lime that was the tricky consideration as it needed to be able to stay preserved in the box, so fresh was out of the question. The lime definitely took the longest to tweak. I worked on that on and off for a good 12 months. Once that was done, I realised I needed to change the salt as it was originally a Jalapeno and lime-based version. It had to be hotter, and it really needed to have a different flavour to the lime. Smoked reapers seemed like the ideal alternative! The salt is designed to draw the moisture out of your tongue and activate the reaper powder. Salt also acts as a sort of enhancer of flavours, so when you take the shot your taste buds should be fully alert and feel every measure of capsaicin contained within. Lime is normally associated with cooling the heat a little, but the candied element means it’s got a bit of resistance to it so you have to chew it a little and that get the 500k extract circulating just to add that final little nugget of heat. It’s a proper unusual experience.

A: I think anyone that has met you, even once, will know the passion that you put into your products. Where does the inspiration come from for new recipes?

Some of The COTV Range

D: I LOVE food! I love the texture, the taste, the smell. I guess maybe growing up as a veggie meant I may have missed out on these things, but it’s so much easier being a “free from” eater these days. The world is also a much smaller place and access to previously scarce or uncommon ingredients is a lot easier now. This, combined with the vast selection of chillies available, means there will always be something new to do with them. Different heats also bring out, or enhance, certain flavours in ingredients. I’m always tinkering in the kitchen. A customer recently asked for a sauce with edible glitter in it which was a new one for me. I love stuff like that! It took a couple of tweaks to get the right colour of the sauce that better showed up the shimmer of the glitter. With some sauces though there may be certain flavours you want to come through, so going hell for leather with heat just masks those subtleties. It’s always fun having a tinker – sometimes the tinkering inspires more tinkering!

A: You have already come a long way but, where do you see yourself taking COTV in the future?

D: I love that even after all this time I still think of ChilliOTV as my hobby. It’s definitely considerably more than that these days, but enjoying what I’m doing is the goal. My son and his best friend have a sub-brand called Chillidren of the Valley, where every penny from the sale of their products goes to support local charities. Proud dad is an understatement. I’d love to see them become more involved as they get older and build on the foundations I’ve started for them. I guess time will tell on that front though, and I’d only ever want Oakley, and/or his sister Maya, become involved in the company if they wanted to not because I’d forced it on them. The immediate goal though is to keep making products that people enjoy. I’m under no illusion that not everyone likes everything I make, but I hope that there’s something for most people in the range. Getting more products sold in the US and Australia would be great too – There are some truly awesome producers in both countries, as well as here in the UK and Europe, but having my stuff sold alongside them would be like a real dream come true.

A: Do you see yourself following in the footsteps of The Mother of Dragons and entering a chilli eating contest at some point in the future? Which leads nicely into, what’s your favourite after chilli beverage?

D: In the early days I did a few comps. We’re talking back to the times when Nagas were pretty much the king of the jungle. I never won any, but came third a couple of times. I realised that having my life flash before my eyes whilst the contents of my stomach passed through me like a Lamborghini really wasn’t something I enjoyed, so gave up the competitive eating. Focused on the production, and started standing the other side of the stall. I love hot foods, and eat chilli with pretty much every meal. I’m the first person to try every product I make, and so feel I have a pretty respectable tolerance, but I’d rather suffer in the comfort of my own porcelain throne than a soaking wet portaloo n the middle of a field! Best thing ever, in my very humble opinion is mixing raspberry puree (seeds removed) with some sugar water and a slug of lime juice, then freeze. Scrape it with a fork to make a sorbet and that’ll help cool anything. You can add a shot of tequila or vodka to make a daquiri of sorts which is also pretty delicious. If you can’t be bothered to go through the effort of that I make a raspberry based dessert sauce (Pasilla Queen of the Dessert) which does the job – pour the bottle into a plastic tub and stick it in the freezer. Bosh. Done.

A: Chilli is obviously a given, but we need to be controversial! Pineapple on pizza, yes or no?

D: Hell yes! The sweet and tart of the pineapple helps cut through the fat of the cheese (I love a lot of cheese on my pizza!). Depending on the toppings though it may be a flat no too – porcini, blue cheese and veggie nduja is pretty tasty and really shouldn’t have anything sweet with it. Horses for courses I guess, but crusts are always good for dipping in to a pineapple-based chilli sauce. You should try the Chillidren of the Valley Santoku for this – pineapple, mango and reaper. Delicious!