Blonde Beauchamp believes in fostering human connections through food.
A self-taught chef, Beauchamp learned to cook in the way some musicians learn to play by ear. In her childhood kitchen, the first-generation Haitian-American followed her mother’s lead. “My mother was always in the kitchen, but she was sort of quiet about what she was doing. I don’t remember her instructing me, so I had to watch her very carefully,” says Beauchamp. She was a precocious and experimental chef, and her mother’s stove was a place of excitement and exploration.
“I was constantly trying new things by myself—mixing ingredients on a plate just to see what would happen,” she says. “I remember when I was younger than 10, maybe 8 or so, going out to restaurants with my family and trying to memorize the blends of tastes. I’d go to [the] Super 88 [food market] and buy all these unfamiliar pastes just to recreate dim sum at home, if I could.”
That sense of wonder and willingness to try something new are still a part of Beauchamp’s process at Commonwealth Kitchen in Dorchester, where she’s been handmaking Haitian-style pikliz (pronounced pick-lees), a spicy pickled cabbage condiment, for a little over a year. She’s branded her wares “The Craic & Blonde,” and they’ve made her a staple at local spots like the Cambridge Winter Farmers Market. Beauchamp is on a mission to change the way Cambridge experiences flavor, though her reach stretches far beyond the People’s Republic thanks to her online storefront, which currently offers pikliz in two flavors.
Before spicing up the Boston area’s flavor profile, Beauchamp studied and worked for a time in Ireland, where she realized cooking was a great way to meet people. The “craic” part of her product’s name comes from an Irish word meaning “fun” or a “good time.” Her years abroad motivated her to learn to produce and monetize her cooking—it was the friends she fed there who encouraged her to start selling Haitian food.
When she got back to the states, Beauchamp knew she needed a plan. It wasn’t an easy decision to start a business, and she was torn between the corporate world of communications and setting out on her own. Ultimately, she chose to press on with piklizdespite her reservations. In just over a year, she’s grown her a customer base large enough to prepare foods full time. She makes every batch to order and mails each jar to customers herself.
It’s easy to see why Beauchamp’s product line took off quickly. She’s effervescent and extroverted, a genuine and emotional saleswoman. Her eyes glow with enthusiasm when she’s asked to describe her products, and she begins listing the different dishes—oysters, paninis, even hot dogs—that can benefit from a dash of her homemade cooking. (“Trust me,” she says, grinning, “pikliz takes a hot dog from zero to 100 really quickly.”) However, she doesn’t necessarily share that same enthusiasm for the day-to-day drudgery of running a small business.
“There are still some days where I find myself filling out spreadsheets, looking at finances and thinking, ‘Oh God, why am I doing this?’” she explains. “But anytime I get to talk to people, at a fair or a farmers market or some kind of cultural or foodie event, that’s it. That’s what I love.”
Beauchamp says she can remember many of her customers clearly because she enjoys that momentary bond so much.
“A lot of women will stop by and talk to me, saying they can’t handle spicy stuff, but they always have a man in their lives who’s going to love it. Once, I talked to a man who said his wife was the one who loved spicy foods, and I just—I love the idea of him taking my food home to this little firecracker of a woman,” she says.
As Beauchamp points out, not everyone has the palate for pikliz. The pickled delight may enhance cuisine from every culture, but she warns that the stuff packs a punch. She recalls one customer in particular, a self-proclaimed spice lover, who was certain she could handle a big bite of the spread. Beauchamp asked the woman to go easy, explaining that her wares weren’t for the spice-adverse. The incident ended with the woman, mouth aflame, apologizing in tears, and it inspired Beauchamp to start decorating her table with habanero peppers in an effort to illustrate how spicy the sauce is.
Beauchamp’s blog, available at thecraicandblonde.com, is a treasure trove of cross-cultural recipes in which pikliz do well. Eventually, she hopes to expand her product line to include more than the two flavors that are available now. More than that, she plans to add a cultural and social component to the mix and says she’d like to donate a portion of her proceeds to a nonprofit. Being involved in the community is important to Beauchamp, who believes that people and food are inherently intertwined.
“I’ve found that the culture and management in this area are wonderful. If I ever need help with something, people are interested in getting involved, whether it’s in packaging or in making connections for business opportunities,” she says. Beauchamp has crossed paths with other entrepreneurs, restauranteurs and even DIY Cantabrigians interested in pickling and preservatives just by attending local events like Formaggio Kitchen’s barbecues.
And even if some tasters can’t handle the heat, Beauchamp believes the growing popularity of her pikliz demonstrates an innate curiosity in the city. “Everyone knows there are many of us—Haitians—around Boston. Haitians aren’t really my [target] demographic,” Beauchamp says, “because they have pikliz on their shelves already, at home. Our moms made it.” Instead, Beauchamp says she makes food for the culinarily adventurous: empty nesters who want to experiment with unfamiliar kinds of cuisine, creative types who are looking to bring their imaginative flair to the kitchen and young people who are hungry for more—for something different.
“Those are my favorite,” she says. “You can add Haitian flavor to dishes you already make. It’s just so easy to blend cultural experiences that way, through food.”
[This story originally appeared in our November/December print edition, which can be found at more than 100 pick up spots throughout the area.]