How Queensland chef Clinton Fang Yuen went from illness to a business with bite

Fang’s is now selling its product by mail order from its Cairns base, with export markets the next target.

Fang’s is now selling its product by mail order from its Cairns base, with export markets the next target.

What inspired you to start making chilli sauce?

About 4 years ago, I was very ill from two mosquito-borne infections that I contracted at the same time: Murray Valley encephalitis and Dengue fever. I was bedridden for nearly a year and I couldn’t work. My wife threw the iPad at me and said: ‘Start researching, start getting all those recipes out of your head and start developing a chilli sauce that everyone likes.’

Did you have any experience making chilli sauce, or did you just jump into the international market?

At the time I was already making a chilli sauce for my family — for mum and dad and everyone else.

I researched the size of the global hot-sauce industry and realised that hot sauces were becoming more and more trendy. The growth rates were like 150%, much bigger than your typical tomato sauce, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, etc.

And why did you choose to go with an all-natural product?

Well, I also noticed the trend towards products that were preservative-free and gluten-free, and my recipe fitted that bill. I basically homed in on what people wanted in a hot sauce and that’s how we arrived at Fang’s Chilli Sauce — which is low in sodium and sugar, and has no water, no colours, no preservatives, no thickeners, no agents and is made from fresh ingredients.

The idea is that people can enjoy it whether they are health fanatics or are into fast food — as well as everyone in between (except vegans). I’ve also tried to create one sauce to go with every cuisine, rather than having 20 sauces to go with 20 different cuisines.

You’ve been working hard to get your product into overseas markets. What has that involved?

I am a small-town business but I took part in a TIQ-led trade mission to HOFEX [food expo] in Hong Kong last year to trial the market. Going on that trip meant going up against some of the biggest and best products in the world. It was a bit intimidating, but it also made me grow as a person and improve our business model.

TIQ organised meetings with the Great Food Hall head chef Timothy Broderick at the delegation dinner. He asked me all about the product and our business. He wanted to know what the story was behind it, how we built the business, why Fang’s should be stocked, how it could be matched with any cuisine.

Then he put it to the test by ordering several different dishes — from prawns to rice to egg dishes — to see if it did go with every cuisine. After that he said I’m looking for 20 items out of HOFEX to list in the Great Food Hall, and I’d like yours to be one of them. I nearly fell off my chair!

HOFEX is Asia’s leading food trade show, and it attracts thousands of international buyers. Can you tell us a bit more about the Great Food Hall and Timothy Broderick?

The Great Food Hall is like the David Jones [department store] of the food world but on steroids. Timothy hand picks nearly every product for the Great Food Hall from around the world, the best truffle oils, the best chocolates, the best alcohol, the best fruit juices. But he doesn’t act as a purchasing officer, he acts as a relationship officer or mentor. It’s not just about putting a bottle on a shelf and hoping it sells.

Timothy has an amazing culinary background running some of the best restaurants from New York to Hong Kong. I thought if there was anyone who could tell me whether my product was worth putting on shelves, it would be this guy.

Who has helped you along the way and what would you tell others treading this path?

I’ll be honest, it’s hard. You have got to keep working towards your vision.

I’d say don’t try and reinvent the wheel. Use the contacts you have, like TIQAustrade, your local councils, and leverage that support base. These guys can open doors that would be locked otherwise. I experienced that with TIQ. If I had tried to do it on my own I would never have met or got introduced to the people I did on that trade mission.

Fang’s … that’s an unusual name for a chilli sauce! How did you come up with it?

My last name is Fang-Yuen and I didn’t want to use the word ‘hot’ on the labelling because that can scare a lot of people. I wanted to express the bite through the brand and I wanted to incorporate the brand with my name. We came up with a snake or dragon’s head and the chillis are the fangs. I also wanted it to appeal to different cultures and countries.

What’s your favourite dish to have Fang’s chilli sauce with?

I have it on eggs most often — scrambled, poached or fried.

I also recommend it on hamburgers, pizza, hot dogs, even in soups. Anything that requires a little bit of kick or a bit of extra flavour. If you have a bland ham sandwich, mix a bit of Fang’s Chilli Sauce with mayonnaise and put that on your sandwich.

What’s the weirdest thing people put Fang’s Chilli Sauce on?

My nephews and nieces eat it on ice cream! If you mix it with vanilla ice cream, it tastes like cheese cake. And I know gym junkies that add it to their protein shakes. People also put it in Bloody Marys and with oyster shots.

And the best way to have it?

Personally, we freeze it and shave it over oysters. This gives a unique sensation because you have something icy cold on the oyster that melts instantly in your mouth, while the heat warms your mouth up. Give it a try!

Fang’s will join more than 20 other Queensland businesses on TIQ’s mission to Food and Hotel Asia in Singapore later this month.

Trade and Investment Queensland is the Queensland government’s global business agency, helping Queensland exporters take their products to world markets, and promoting Queensland as the perfect place for investment.