Food & Drink

Ten-year-old Verona Chef Kicks It Up a Notch in the Kitchen

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VERONA, NJ - A 10-year-old chef is cooking up a little magic in Verona, or should we call it “Saucery?”  

A “foodie” since birth, Connor Barshay has a sophisticated palate for one so young, with a love for salty, sour and savory flavors -- preferring pickles, olives and cheeses over cake, candy and other sweets.  Perhaps his favorite food accompaniment is hot sauce and he is turning that love of heat into his own business -- “Connor’s Saucery.”  

“When he was a baby, he would literally suck on lemons and call it “bad juice,” said his father Ethan Barshay.  “He would pretend he didn’t like it, but clearly he did.”

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“He’s never been the kind of kid to order off the children’s menu.  He’s a very adventurous eater and if there’s an interesting item on the menu he’ll order it,” said his mother Michelle.  “He most recently tried a camel burger and loved it.”  

Connor is a fifth-grader at H.B. Whitehorne Middle School, whose favorite subject is math. He is also a huge video game and Star Wars fan -- naming Star Wars Battlefront as his favorite game and Yoda as his favorite character because he is “small, green and very funny.”  As for hot sauce, Connor said he likes to put it on pretty much anything he likes to eat.  

Connor’s love of hot sauce began at an early age.  The Barshays said that no matter where they went to eat Connor would request hot sauce and if it was homemade or a brand he’d never tried before he would get really excited.  In fact, one of Connor’s favorite restaurants is Little Havana in Baltimore that offers its own hot sauce for sale.   

“Connor has always liked flavorful, spicy foods -- never sweets.  So for birthdays we stick a candle in a pickle or in a bowl of olives,” laughs Michelle. “As a family we garden a lot and we grow hot peppers.  A cousin of mine also grows a variety of peppers for Connor to try.”

Connor also began cooking at an early age, helping his dad and his mom  in the kitchen.  “I cook and my wife cooks and we take food pretty seriously at home so Connor would always help out,”  Ethan said.  

Connor has Muscular Dystrophy which can make some physical activity challenging.  Ethan and Michelle encourage Connor to pursue other activities he can excel at….like cooking.  

“My favorite thing about cooking is that I get to try out new flavors and experiment with things,” Connor said.  

According to Michelle,  he’s partial to Mexican food and always makes nachos for his friends when they come over to play.

“My family is very Italian so we make and jar our own sauces.  Connor has always loved the process, so I think that prompted the idea of making his own hot sauce,” Michelle added.

Ethan agreed, noting that one of Connor’s relatives bought him a hot sauce making kit and the next thing they knew, Connor’s Saucery was born.

The goal of Connor’s Saucery is two-fold -- to create a profitable, independent, small-batch hot sauce business with delicious products that Connor can be proud of and to give back to the Muscular Dystrophy community by contributing 10 percent of all profits to Muscular Dystrophy research and other projects that benefit children with special needs.

“People don’t always know much about Muscular Dystrophy so research is underfunded,” Ethan explained.  “We are hoping to bring a little bit of attention and a little bit of funding.”

According to Ethan, when Connor began his career as a hot sauce chef, he was initially searching for the hottest “hot sauce” he could find, but then he noted that while the hottest sauces had the heat, they lacked flavor.  

“Now he’s more interested in making sauce that is hot, but that also has an interesting flavor,” Ethan noted.  “The plan is to use all fresh ingredients and make hot sauce infused with flavors.”

Connor wants to kick off the business with three different sauces -- Lime & Habanero, Ghost Pepper & Roasted Vidalia Onion and Jalapeno, Tomatillo & Madras Curry.   Connor is the Executive Chef/Owner and Ethan is the Cook/Co-owner.  To get the business off the ground, Ethan established a Go Fund Me page and was amazed when they reached their goal of $2,000 in less than 24 hours.

“It was touching on so many levels,” Ethan said.  “The response was amazing.  We were dumbfounded and really moved.”

Michelle said she was overwhelmed by the response, noting that they had been talking about the hot sauce idea for a while.  

“This last year, we’ve traveled to Baltimore a lot because Connor is part of a clinical trial, so the hot sauce has been a car conversation,” she noted.  “We’ve been eating our way through Baltimore, trying different hot sauces as we went, and pretty much no stone has been unturned, so the next logical step was to make our own.”

Ethan secured a local commercial kitchen and began the process of getting all of the necessary licensing.  They are now accepting pre-orders on their website.  In addition, hot sauce fans can keep up to date via Facebook and Instagram

“We’re looking to have three or four sauces available for sale within the next month or so and then hit as many farm markets, street fairs and food events as possible come early spring,” Ethan explained.  “In addition, we are launching an online store, and hope to have Connor’s sauces carried in local specialty markets.”  

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