I first tasted the sweet, sweet fried plantain from Mazépis Spices at SAW Gallery during an event. When Marissa Peters joins our virtual call, I am reminded of the calm energy she exhibits. She and her wife, Michelle, opened Mazépis Spices during the pandemic. Marissa also generously brought over Michelle’s creations for me to sample once more.
The business name incorporates Michelle’s nickname “Ma” and spices in French, “épices”. “I want people to know she is the heart of it,” Marissa says passionately about her wife. “I am SO proud of her, she is my queen. I tell her, ‘We are equal but if it wasn’t for you, this wouldn’t happen.'”
“I want people to know she is the heart of it. I am SO proud of her, she is my queen. I tell her, ‘We are equal but if it wasn’t for you, this wouldn’t happen.'”
Their cooking venture began when everyone was stuck at home during the first lockdown. One of Michelle and Marissa’s kids brought home an abundance of fresh fruits and veggies when their work shut down. Michelle threw it all together in the blender and created Mazépis’s very first marinade. “She could always cook, but this just took it to another level,” says Marissa. “We had no idea if it would take off, but I said ‘Let’s put it in bottles and see what happens!'”
It was a big learning curve for the two parents, who already have full-time jobs and are raising five kids. With this new business venture, Michelle and Marissa had to figure out their license and registration, labelling and farmers’ markets. “The two of us can focus on this and get away from everything,” says Marissa. “It’s just our own thing. I love seeing people enjoy Michelle’s creations in a bottle!”
Mazépis only uses fresh and natural ingredients, favouring citrus and vinegar for preservation. With an overwhelmingly positive community response from the very start, Mazépis expanded its range of products, adding signature hot sauces made with scotch bonnet peppers, and are now serving hot meals with chicken, rice, and plantain, which I got to try!
I’ve never tasted chicken like this before. It’s smoky and juicy. The plantains and dough bread balls act as a perfect palate cleanser. Mazépis also let me try their sliders—pulled pork, avocado, and corn sandwiched between two plantains. They are saucy, yummy, and have the best texture, not to mention how fun they are to eat with my hands. No wonder they sold out in minutes when Michelle and Marissa brought them to a market.
Everything is so satisfying, deliciously comforting, and perfectly complements the other items. Made with a Canadian palate in my mind, none of the food is spicy, and that was my partner’s one request—more spice (he likes his mouth on fire).
“Michelle is originally from Haiti, so the food has a traditional Haitian influence, with Trinidad and Jamaican flavours too, combining all of our backgrounds,” explains Marissa. When I taste Mazépis’ fresh mango lemonade, I feel like I’m on a tropical island. “This is what we want—we bring the taste of the islands to you,” says Marissa when I run into her at yet another event at Arts Court.
“What we are doing is meaningful to people, they enjoy it, and it’s nice to hear when people ask where we are or where we can find us.”
Mazépis currently operates out of a commercial kitchen and attends many markets. “At the markets, it’s super important that it’s us, so people see us, it’s the personal impact. We have a super laid-back vibe, we play music and we want people to come to our table, ask questions, and don’t be shy,” says Marissa. “We are always doing different markets and events and at different kitchens (on top of jobs and kids), we are always trying to remember where we are. It’s a good issue—what we are doing is meaningful to people, they enjoy it, and it’s nice to hear when people ask where we are or where we can find us.”
The women behind Mazépis clearly have a lot on their plate, but have absolutely no complaints. I can see how genuinely happy Marissa is to be sharing her wife’s talent with other folks around Ottawa. “I told her I’ll do the interviews, the business, everything, you just cook,” says Marissa. When I ask about the creative process in the kitchen, she laughs.
“All the recipes are in Michelle’s head. She learned the love and skill of cooking from her Grandma. If it doesn’t slice a certain way, it won’t taste a certain way! You can tell the difference in the marinade based on the order of the ingredients that went in there and Michelle just knows all that.”