photo: Sam Gross and Melanie Bonney produce Chef Mel’s Liquid Gold at Loggers Cafe at Umpqua Community College [Emily Hoard/News Review]
Chef Mel’s strikes gold
Ever since Melanie Bonney of Rice Valley created a sweet, spicy, tangy sauce during a cooking interview for Loggers Tap House in 2013, customers have been requesting it by the cupful. There was such a demand for the honey-colored sauce, known as “Liquid Gold,” at the restaurant that Bonney and Loggers owner Sam Gross decided to start a new business around it, Chef Mel’s Inc.
“When you first taste it, it’s instantly sweet and then the heat creeps up on you and you get that tang and that spice as well,” said Bonney, also known as Chef Mel.
Gross described Chef Mel’s as a “national food company specializing in sauces and other products with an emphasis on healthy living.”
Bonney, executive chef at Loggers Tap House in Roseburg and Loggers Cafe at Umpqua Community College, graduated from UCC’s culinary program, where she also works as an instructional assistant.
While other interviewees for Loggers presented only their resumes, Bonney made a full course meal to show what she could make, including the Liquid Gold sauce.
Now, its popularity has spread.
“It started out as just a sauce for one or two items, but now people order it as dipping sauce for anything that they’re eating,” Gross said.
Chef Mel’s began bottling the sauce for retail in February. Currently made at UCC, the sauce will soon be bottled at Paradigm Foodworks in Lake Oswego.
“There’s nothing like it on the market,” Bonney said. It’s very versatile, she added, and can be used in a range of foods from salad to ribs, rice, dressings, spicy margaritas and vanilla ice cream.
“You can’t really do that with any other sauce,” Bonney said.
Bonney said she’d like Chef Mel’s to be found in more restaurants and stores across the U.S. and become a household name.
Liquid Gold is currently available through Amazon, the company’s website at chefmels.com,locally at Sherm’s Thunderbird and Nickabob’s Meat Market, and several other locations throughout Oregon, California and Iowa. The business is often represented at farmers markets and culinary events, including the Bite of Oregon fundraiser for Special Olympics.
Bonney said she hopes to continue expanding the business to a full line of products. She’s already developed rubs and spices, an Oregon berry and jalapeño sauce and Golden Inferno, which incorporates the Carolina reaper, the hottest pepper in the world.
As a chef, Bonney said, the ultimate goal is to make people happy through the food she creates. She enjoys watching customers’ reactions when they first try the sauce.
“When we do events, they’ll come buy their food with the sauce and then you watch them walk away talking with their friends. They put it in their mouth and their eyes get big and they’re making somebody take a bite,” Bonney said. “You sit back and watch that, and there’s no feeling like it because you know it’s giving someone that happiness.”
While ranch, ketchup or fry sauce are common dipping sauces, Gross added, “to see this unique sauce be an alternative to that is pretty cool.”
Bonney said the business gets a lot of help from friends and family, including her husband George and children Kyleah, Julian and Gavin.
A Kickstarter for Chef Mel’s raised $5,838 with 208 backers — eclipsing their goal of $3,000.
This story by Emily Hoard appeared in The News Review on August 18, 2016.