Texas salsa-maker brings the heat with line of products for director Kevin Smith

Corpus Christi’s Alissa Peña has seen her salsas reach shelves throughout the state. Now she’s behind the new “Salsa Shark” line for the “Clerks III” director.

By Raul AlonzoOctober 7, 2022 12:22 pm, , ,

We’re gonna need a bigger boat.

At least for Alissa Peña, one that can hold the large order of jars the Corpus Christi-based owner of JalaPeña’s Salsa has been tapped to produce for director Kevin Smith.

After wowing the owner of Jade City Foods, a company that makes a variety of movie tie-in food products, Peña landed the opportunity to produce a line of “Salsa Shark” salsas, named for a joke in the director’s 1994 cult classic “Clerks,” ahead of the release of the third installment of that film’s saga.

“When it came around to finding out that I was going to be a part of it, I first didn’t really fully believe,” Peña said. “Secondly, I had a full-blown fangirl freak out. I’ve still never spoken to him. But talking to Jade City Foods was like … It blew my mind and was super exciting. And I had a super fangirl moment and then I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, okay. Get to work. Get your mind in the game. It’s go time.’”

Screenshot provided by Alissa Peña

Peña’s culinary journey has foundations in her family. A cornerstone of her line of salsas, “Prissy’s Original,” is named for her mother and is based upon the recipe Peña learned from her.

“My mom started my interest in food at a very early age because that’s how she showed her love,” Peña said. “We believe in our family that food is a love language. And we saw that if somebody is sick, somebody is happy, celebrating, ill, all of it … we show up with food, right? That’s what we do. So I think it was instilled at a very early age. My mom always cooked. We didn’t always have a ton of money, but there was always dinner on the table and it was always incredible, no matter what she did, because there was so much love put into it.”

But the spark that led Peña to start jarring and selling her salsas came after she was asked by friends and coworkers to bottle her well-loved product for a Christmas posada. The request prompted Peña to do some quick learning of how the process works – a process that took some time to perfect.

“The  start of the business I think was definitely hard because I had to teach myself how to jar salsas, right?” Peña said. “How to can. And I started with basically two big pots and a rack and a lot of YouTube tutorials, teaching myself how to keep it on. And honestly, there’s nothing more frustrating than going through the labor of love that is making salsa.

It’s hot peppers. It’s hot in your hands. It’s hot in the house. I mean, it’s hot all the way around, right? And then not sealing something correctly and having them pop or not pop and you losing all of that product and those lids. It was definitely a hurdle in the beginning – trying to really nail it and get it down. But it eventually clicked. Now it’s clockwork.”

Provided by Alissa Peña

Alissa Peña said she wanted to focus on quality rather than quantity when it came to her products, making five different salsas the cornerstones of JalaPeña's Salsa.

Peña’s culinary background is extensive. Though she says she hasn’t had any formal training, her experience in the front and back house of renowned restaurants from Austin to as far as Richmond, Va., have helped her pick up an array of knowledge.

In addition, Peña had further opportunities to learn from James Beard semi-finalist chef Quinten Frye, one of several roommates she lived with while working at the Four Seasons restaurant in Austin. While she initially hid the food she cooked from the up-and-coming chef, he eventually discovered it and offered to take Peña under his wing after being impressed by its flavor.

“He taught me the best of everything that he knew,” Peña said. “I picked up everything I could. I was a sponge, and I couldn’t wait to know more and learn more. So I’m incredibly grateful. And luckily, he’s still my best friend, chef mentor.”

Starting JalaPeña’s Salsa, Peña focused on maintaining a small line of products. She offers five flavors, all vegan, preservative-free and made with locally sourced produce. Her emphasis on a local, quality product eventually brought her the opportunity to get her products onto the shelves when a new Total Wine & More opened in Corpus Christi and the branch manager sought out local offerings to sell.

“They called me in,” Peña said. “I sent them a sampler set. They tasted everything and loved it. It was the best feeling in the whole world. I feel like it really legitimized me, putting me on the shelf here in Corpus Christi. It really legitimized the business. It kind of like launched me into the big leagues.”

Eventually, JalaPeña’s Salsa products made their way to stores in San Antonio and Austin – and Peña landed her biggest client in Jade City Foods and Kevin Smith. Producing salsa for the line meant tweaking her recipes and fulfilling an order for a huge volume of jars, but it’s a challenge that Peña says she is ready for.

“This is just such a gigantic platform for me, the business,” Peña said. “I’m just excited to be along for the ride. It’s going to be insane amounts of work, and I am so 1,000% ready for it. I feel like everything else has kind of led up to this point, and it’s go time.”

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