From Seed To Sauce
● By Aimee Cormier
By Wynce Nolley
The McIlhenny Company, the creator of all things TABASCO®, has just completed a $5.5 million renovation to its facilities on Avery Island, which includes the brand new TABASCO® Pepper Sauce Visitors Center and 1868 Restaurant.
The salt dome that is Avery Island has been the source of TABASCO® Sauce since it was created nearly 150 years ago. And the new Visitors Center serves to fully satisfy the curiosity of TABASCO® fans near and far by conveying the storied origins of the sauce, how the brand has impacted culinary culture throughout history and even providing a behind-the-scenes look at the production process of TABASCO®.
“Before you only just got to sit there and see a film and look at the bottling and production line,” says Angie Schaubert, senior manager of brand sales at the McIlhenny Company. “But now you really get to experience each step from our history an experience we call ‘from seed to sauce.’”
For the first time ever, visitors touring the new facility on Avery Island now have the opportunity to witness the entire production of TABASCO® from seed to sauce–from the peppers first budding in the greenhouse, to the towering walls of stacked oak barrels where mashed peppers are aged for three years, to a glimpse into the production facility where the sauce is blended, stirred and finally bottled.
“So now you get to see and experience each step where before you didn’t,” says Schaubert.
The centerpiece of the new additions will be a museum featuring rare family artifacts and video installations illustrating the origins and generations of the McIlhenny family and their TABASCO® heritage, which dates all the way back to the 1800s. These installations will also highlight Avery Island’s history as well as the company’s stewardship of the island and surrounding environment.
Visitors can also walk through a faux salt mine, snap pictures with several life-size bottles of their favorite TABASCO® flavor and even sample treats that are only available at the TABASCO® Country Store.
Guests visiting Avery Island can also now enjoy an authentic breakfast and lunch daily at the recently opened 1868 restaurant.
“We built a restaurant so that our tourists could have a place to eat and experience using TABASCO® sauce on food when they were here,” says Schaubert.
Named for the year TABASCO® Sauce was first created, 1868 offers a menu that is catered towards curious TABASCO® fans and other Cajun Country visitors, including items like crawfish étouffée, gumbo and red beans and rice along with items suitable for children like hot dogs and nachos.
“Before, there was no food service on the island for visitors, so it kind of broke up their day because they had to go back up to the city to eat,” says Schaubert. “So this kind of gives them the opportunity to stay all day and enjoy everything. And of course all of our sauces are available in the restaurant, so they can try the different sauces and see what they like and hopefully bring some new flavors back home to their household and use them there.”
Chef Lionel Robin and Sous Chef Chantel Derouen are the talented hands behind the diverse 1868 menu that features daily specials written on giant wall scrolls including Cajun favorites seasoned with the myriad of TABASCO® Sauce flavors including pepper jelly boudin and corn maque choux along with southern staples like home-style chili and pulled chicken BBQ sandwiches. And in an effort to inspire international fans when they return home, 1868 plans to introduce internationally inspired dishes to the menu as well.
The cottage-style restaurant features a wrap around porch that offers diners a stunning view of the factory and country store. The interior of 1868 is reminiscent of the old off-the-beaten-path restaurants where the person sitting at a nearby table could be your next-door neighbor. The wooden tables all feature the TABASCO® logo branded onto the surface while the matching seats provide a comfortable respite. The walls also host portraits that showcase the inner workings of the TABASCO® Factory as well as a few founding members.
Another attraction at Avery Island is the Jungle Gardens where visitors can wander through 170 acres of botanical greenery and observe thousands of snowy egrets that migrate each spring to Bird City, which is a private wildfowl sanctuary located on the island.
“It’s a natural garden of bamboo and beautiful live oak trees and alligators and wildlife,” says Schaubert of the gardens. “We also have a bird sanctuary where Mr. McIlhenny many years ago saved the snowy egret from extinction and now they come here to nest every year. There are camellias and azaleas that grow here at specific times of the year. It’s just a beautiful natural garden.”
Another addition to Avery Island is the admission fee, which was once free; visitors must now pay $5.50 per person. However, the tradeoff is that there is no longer a road toll required to get onto the island.
“It’s a great experience and we’ve got nothing but fantastic feedback from the people who have come,” says Schaubert.“So it’s a full day of experience about TABASCO® Sauce and Avery Island.”
The TABASCO® Pepper Sauce Visitors Center is open Monday through Sunday from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m., while the cafeteria-style 1868 Restaurant will be open Monday through Sunday from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m., on Avery Island. For more information visit www.TABASCO.com.