Collingwood's local food scene just got a little bit spicier thanks to Vivek Bhatia and his burgeoning hot sauce business, Big Trouble.
By day, Bhatia serves as Jeff Beltran's right-hand man at Low Down, but by night, he creates mouthwatering recipes for his growing hot sauce and catering business. With his roots in India, Bhatia draws inspiration from his mother and childhood, infusing his dishes with flavours that speak to his heritage.
“I believe that cooking is magic,” said Bhatia. “When I was young, my mother used to whip up a delicious meal in a matter of minutes! She really inspired me to learn more.”
His journey into the culinary world began with a simple ingredient — garlic.
As a kid, he wasn't a fan, but one dish prepared by his mother changed his mind. A Paneer vegetable creation filled the air with the irresistible aroma of garlic, and since then, garlic has become a staple in his kitchen, adding depth to his culinary creations.
After completing high school, Bhatia went on to pursue a three-year undergraduate program in hotel management. Bhatia then made the decision to further his studies and embark on a journey of self-development in Canada. He enrolled at Centennial College, immersing himself in the world of baking and pastry arts.
“Culinary found me by destiny,” he said.
After completing his studies, Bhatia faced a challenging job market, with limited opportunities in the pastry field.
"My friend called me one day and told me to come up and work in the Blue Mountains," he recounts. “So I did.”
Bhatia’s path took an exciting turn when he joined the team at Low Down a few years later, where he met Jeff Beltran and Cassie Mackell. After some time, he became their sous chef.
“I couldn’t believe it when they asked me if I wanted the job,” said Bhatia.
While grateful for the opportunity, his drive pushed him to explore his own culinary creations outside of work as well. One day, Beltran asked if Bhatia wanted to host his own pop-up at Low Down.
Equal parts excited and nervous, he got to work. The pop-up was called “Big Trouble in Little India” and Bhatio offered two dishes: Paneer, and his signature Butter Chicken dish, he considers the venture a success.
“Your name is at stake, and Low Down’s name is at stake. So I knew if it didn’t go well, I might not get a second chance,” he said. “But it was a very positive experience. Everyone loved it.”
Big Trouble caught on, so he adopted the name and started an Instagram page to share his creations. Since then, he has done three pop-ups at Low Down and one at Still Fields Brewery in Meaford, and he started selling his hot sauces on Saturday mornings at the Collingwood Farmers’ Market.
Looking ahead, Bhatia’s aspirations for Big Trouble are rooted in a desire to share his culinary creations with the world. His love for hot sauces has inspired him to experiment with recipes, seeking the perfect combination of flavour and heat.
"I've got three versions right now — the original Tornado, Honey Quake with the sweetness of honey, and Sweenami with the sweetness of maple syrup," Bhatia said, describing his hot sauce creations. He's determined to make his sauces a hit. "These hot sauces go with anything. Seriously, anything!"
Bhatia’s personal love for his hot sauces is evident in his own dishes.
"I marinate my steak overnight with Honey Quake, then throw it on the BBQ the next day. Oh boy, it's incredible!" he smiled. He even made his bottles pocket-sized so he could bring them to restaurants, adding his hot sauce to every meal.
Within the next three years, Bhatia envisions wider distribution of his signature hot sauce.
"I want my sauce to be everywhere. It'll take time, but I'll make it happen," he said.