Dipping sauce recipe capturing taste buds
RUMFORD CENTER -- Reviving a half-century old recipe from oblivion, Pete Morin's dipping sauce is already creating a stir within the River Valley and beyond.
In the middle of the afternoon, after Rt. 2 Diner had closed for the day, Morin could be found busily preparing four quarts of his homemade sauce pot in the kitchen of the business.
As he stirred the sauce, Morin said, "I'm using a five-gallon pot, with four gallons going; this is my biggest batch yet."
Morin, from Newry, talked about the history of the sauce that spawned his business, called Maple Leaf Red, which officially began on Aug. 8.
Growing up in Fort Kent, he would often walk across the Canadian border to his uncle’s restaurant in Clair, New Brunswick, where his mother was the chef. His uncle had a special dipping sauce he made for chicken and fries, which Pete and his friends enjoyed.
"He was very successful with his restaurant in a little town, smaller than Ft. Kent. When he sold the restaurant, he took his recipes, put them in the closet in the pantry in his kitchen. Twenty years later, he passes away and my aunt says, 'You want this? Everybody else does.'"
Morin said his uncle was very secretive about the recipe. "People drove hundreds of miles of have his barbeque chicken with that dipping sauce."
Morin went on to a 20-year career in fish and wildlife management. About 10 years ago, he moved to the Bethel area, where he worked for a restaurant, for the Mt. Washington Auto Road, and currently, as a driver for the Appalachian Mountain Club shuttle service.
He said he recreated the dipping sauce recipe this past spring and served it with chicken during a reunion with some old high school friends he hadn't seen for 19 years.
Because of the positive reactions to the sauce, Morin decided to try bottling the sauce and selling it.
"While my sauces are coming to boil, I'm sterilizing all my bottles and putting the caps on them so I don't introduce any bacteria," he said.
After about two hours of cooking, he pours the sauce hot into the bottles, then does the sealing and labeling all by hand.
"Today, I'm probably putting out close to 48 bottles (four cases)," said Morin.
Check the ingredients -- tomato sauce, onion, brown sugar, lemon, vinegar, salt, mustard powder, Tabasco, hot peppers, garlic and spices -- you can pronounce all of them. "I don't have any additives or preservatives, fillers or extenders," said Morin, adding that there are also no wheat products or nuts in the recipe.
"This sauce is remarkable. I call it a multi-tasker," he said.
Morin elaborated by noting that said he's tried (with success) the dipping sauce with different meats, hand cut fries, a barbeque cheese dip, mayo, buttered break and even as a pizza sauce.
He said he discovered Rt. 2 Diner one day when he came here to eat. He noticed other cooks from other restaurants came here to eat as well. "Some of the people who know food are eating here."
Morin had applied to the state to get his kitchen tested so he good do this at home, but kitchen was too small. He approached other local restaurants to talk about them using his sauce with no luck until he approached Rt. 2 Diner owner Erin Hall.
Hall closes her business at 2 p.m., then cleanup until 3."Then I come in, start setting up, do my thing until about 4:30, then start bottling before it's time for me to roll," he said.
Hall is using his dipping sauce in her kitchen and selling it to the public. Rt. 2 Diner also serves a sandwich that has been named "Pete's Steak Bomb."
Maple Leaf Red can also be found at the Good Food Store, the Newry Trading Post and the Bethel Foodliner.
Hall also referred him to Jim Naples of Naples Meat Packing, Co. Morin made samples for Naples and his dispatcher to try. They liked the sauce and starting making orders with him about three weeks ago.
Most of the ingredients he uses now comes from Naples. "With him, I can keep my prices within reason so that the local people can it. That's very important because it's the locals who come back and buy it again."
The 12-ounce bottle of sauce sells for $5.99.
Eventually, he would like to have a taste-testing session at Naples for the public to try his dipping sauce.
"It's not complicated, but labor intensive to make sauces. It take takes about three to 3.5 hours to put out a batch," said Morin.
As far as the name, Morin thought of many different ones, but then decided upon the name of his uncle's restaurant, called Maple Leaf, and because his sauce is red, the name Maple Leaf Red.
The cost to start the business was less than $1,000. "My tips from driving started up this business. And now we have this big $2,000 order that came in with the bottles (from Illinois)," said Morin.
"For me, it's the passion. I like the sauce, and I haven't run into anybody who disagrees," he noted.
"Little by little, I'm going here, going there. Ski season is coming so I'm going to approach Sunday River. The demand is there. It's gone from a couple bottles here, a couple bottles there to six bottles to a case (12 bottles) or two cases," he said. Right now, I'm bottling for February. I've given myself a three-month logevity for the bottle, to be on the safe side, although it's good for up to a year if you keep it in a cool, dark place."
Not only is he using natural ingredients, but Morin is also going green by offering to buy back the bottles.
"The Bear River Trading Post tells people to bring back the bottle for a nickel deposit, then I go and buy from them for twice that because the bottles cost me 50 cents. Then I wash them, sterilize them, reuse them, just like they did in the old days," he noted.
Eventually, Morin would like to see his dipping sauce available statewide. "Up north, they know about it. They've taste it for years, but not for 20-something years."
Knowing that, Morin said he going to approach a small store in northern Maine as well as a local newspaper in the near future to promote his dipping sauce.
For the future, Morin said he needs to find a food processing plant in the state that willing to "do something for a little company. We all start small and, if we're successful, we can get a little bigger and hire people."
However, he cautioned, "I don't want it to get so out of hand that I can't keep up."
"Right now, it's me and the wife. She cooks the books and I cook the sauce. I'm glad I have her because not everybody would allow the other half to launch onto something at the age of 57 into a new business," noted Morin, as he stirred the sauce in the pot one more time.
Pete Morin stirs another batch of his Maple Leaf Red dipping sauce, which he is bottling and selling locally, with an eye of expanding into a statewide business in the future. (Times photo by Bruce Farrin)