Is it really 15 years since a famous flamboyant all-girl British pop group let loose with a battle cry telling us to “spice up our lives”? Now it’s a Kiwi gal, Vicki Taylor, just as bold and opinionated, who is heating things up on the Sunshine Coast. Nikkii Joyce chats with Vicki and things get, well, spicy!
One of the many things I have to thank my parents for is being born a girl. Subsequently, a regular childhood hobby of mine was taunting my little brother, claiming that I was made from sugar and spice and all things nice, and he, in fact, was to blame for the puppies which had no tails and the decline of snails. But as I grew up and began to familiarise myself with crowded supermarket aisles and mastering the science of trolley navigation, I became increasingly irritated by the absence of detail in this beloved nursery rhyme. What kind of spice? Cinnamon or paprika? Rosemary or nutmeg? Seriously, I thought as the endless rows of miniature Masterfoods and McCormick jars slowly materialise before my eyes, could the karma from my childhood bullying be that I am in fact aniseed? I sought help from an expert and I can reveal, with great pride, that I am garam marsala.
Mystery now solved, me and my sophisticated flavours sit down for a chat with my garam guru, a chilli called Vicki Taylor.
In typical hot pepper fashion, the 45-year-old Caloundra businesswoman is razor sharp and candid as she shares a culinary journey which started with macaroni and cheese. “From a very early stage I could make a meal out of nothing in 10 minutes,” Vicki says, crediting her frugal mother for the home economics lessons she and her three younger sisters learned on their country New Zealand farm. “But just about the spiciest thing I ever learned was macaroni and cheese or meat and veg. That was it. Everything had the shit boiled out of it and salt was the only spice I knew.”
With no clear desire of a future career, Vicki followed in the nursing footsteps left by her grandmother and aunty, but seven years later even cardiothoracic nursing in a prominent London hospital could not calm Vicki’s restless spirit. It was while nursing that Vicki began her travels around the world and as a result had the door of flavour opened to her while eating a pizza in Italy. “Oh my God, the thin crust, the oregano and thyme all those sorts of things. I was loving it all.”
Vicki kept working at the hospital, hating every moment, until a flippant remark at a family barbeque about becoming a bank clerk was encouraged the next day by her father. The job was hers before she knew it and soon the ever-questioning, relentlessly hard working Vicki was being catapulted up the corporate ladder.
By 2000, Vicki was assistant vice-president of the company (she declines to name), and moved to Australia with her husband of three years, Roger, to head up a new Sydney office.
But as it often does, life was about to come to a crashing halt. In 2007, just days after Vicki’s 40th birthday celebrations, Roger was diagnosed with kidney cancer.
An early diagnosis of primary and secondary cancers ultimately proved unfounded, the Taylors “fell in love with a dream oncologist” and the tumour was removed. While this November the couple will celebrate the all important five year in-the-clear milestone, Roger’s health scare saw the couple re-evaluate their life, culminating in Vicki building on her “zest” for life and growing fascination with spices.
Their sea change plan became official when Roger was transferred to the Sunshine Coast in 2010 and having fallen in love with Caloundra, the resolute new local hit the Bulcock Street pavement asking locals if they could use some spice in their life.
Soon after, Red Hot Chilli Pepper was born. This spicy headquarters boasts a myriad of both much-famed and mysterious herbs and spices from around the world, which Vicki has personally researched and sourced from the very best suppliers. Tea lovers can now celebrate their much-deserved turn in the spotlight and out of the shadows of their coffee counterparts, with the addition of Vicki’s in-store specialty tea shop.
A delightful 23 varieties such as Turkish apple and rose, and chocolate chai are not only available to take home, but brewed to enjoy on the spot.
Why make the extra special effort to visit Vicki when those little spice jars are just a supermarket aisle away? “I am different. There is nothing else like this – everything here is what I like and what I know. I do have this feeling of accomplishment every day. I still want success, but I’m not there yet. I’m on the road to success.”