The art of making sweet and spicy jams: Cátia Santos has created “Munchi”, an artisanal brand of “unequalled flavours”

Munchi enriches every meal with its jams, chutneys, and piri-piri sauces and sweetens the heart with its cakes

– November 29, 2023 | Text Beatriz Maio

Lagos native Cátia Santos is the face behind Munchi Cozinha Criativa (Creative Kitchen), a dream that took shape in 2019 and has not stopped growing since. It all started with the desire to make use of leftover food which, together with her creativity, led to unequalled flavours.

She worked for eight years as a cook and manager at the Charming Residence & Guest House Dom Manuel I in Lagos, which gave her the opportunity to learn all the procedures, care, and good practices within a professional kitchen. It was also where she did her first experiments and received positive feedback from customers, which gave her the motivation to continue and make more and better jams.

Initially, there were just three varieties, in little jars with a handwritten label. Now there are 10, produced professionally, plus a panoply of cakes with unique flavours. “I love cooking and that people enjoy my food. That makes me happy,” she revealed, emphasising that “the flexibility of the hotel and the chance to explore the kitchen was essential” in creating her artisanal brand.

The intention of avoiding waste combined with Cátia’s natural talent for mixing ingredients meant that after tasting the jams, many people began to ask if they could be sold. “I didn’t follow a recipe, I just made it naturally,” she said, recalling how the raspberry, red pepper, and lime chutney became a favourite with customers.

From simple to more complex combinations, the artisan was fulfilling their requests and the joy of receiving orders was such that she had no doubts: she wanted to dedicate herself to Munchi and developing her jams, without being afraid to take risks. Although at first, it was “just a joke, with no intentions whatsoever”, she eventually realised that she could turn it into a business and decided to introduce Mexican jalapeños and chillies, the only ingredients that are imported, and produce spicy and smoked jams.

“I want people to have a different gastronomic experience and become more adventurous and creative in the kitchen themselves,” she admitted, adding that her aim is for consumers to use jams and chutneys not just for breakfast or snacks but at every meal, thus taking advantage of the versatility of these products that can be used in grilled or baked dishes.

As skilfulness is part of Cátia, who draws inspiration from her favourite chef Gordon Ramsay, Japanese artisan jam producer Ayako Gordon, and Portimão pastry chef Larissa Neto, who runs the US-based boutique bakery Bakey Bakes, she also decided to sell her sweets, which could not be more successful.

From the blueberry cake, with poppy seeds, lemon curd, and Swiss buttercream, to the chocolate cake with mousse, caramel, salted peanuts, and crispy rice, or the special red velvet with Philadelphia cream cheese, mascarpone, and red fruit jelly, it will be difficult to choose which one to try as they all are mouthwatering – “not too sweet, fresh and light”.

The amount of work began to be so much that, in 2022, the artisan chose to work full-time on the production and sale of her products, which resulted in Munchi’s presence in several food markets as well as partnerships in Lagos, Alvor, Salema, and Espiche. This way, her concept reaches various areas that end up expanding Cátia’s network of clients all over the world, which would not be possible without the help and support of her husband, Luís Madeira, and their friends, Rita and Pedro, her “pillars” from the creation of the brand until today.

Pedro, who is a photographer, created the labels and took care of the image and photography, and Rita, who works in Human Resources at a hotel, advised her on the financial side of things. The name Munchi was also chosen by the four of them because they believe it represents the snacks we eat, when we are not exactly hungry but have an appetite, and can be shared in a social moment.

“It takes a lot of courage and consistency to have your own business. It has been a great adventure,” she said. It is in a house belonging to her grandmother, near Bensafrim, that the artisan produces her jams, chutneys, and piri-piri condiments, in a huge kitchen and in an atmosphere that feels incredibly  personal and familiar. Although the space is just for production, Cátia feels at home and follows her grandmother’s recipes, made by hand without colourings or preservatives in a place where everything is well organised (and legalised).

Working alone, she does all the planning and management, as well as cooking, selling her products, and managing Munchi’s website and social networks, skills she has acquired through her experience over the last few years and her desire to bring her flavours to more people.

“Everything is very careful, from the laboratory studies that prove the products are fit for human consumption to our concern for the environment,” explained Cátia, highlighting that she always prioritises produce from local producers to maintain the freshness and quality of her jams.

Not only does Munchi not use any plastic, but the brand also donates 1% of the online shop’s revenues to Stripe Climate, a coalition of companies that accelerate carbon removal. But it does not stop here, the carbon footprint is well controlled, and the distribution of the products is only done in electric or hybrid cars. This concern led to the creation of Munchi bags, made from 100% cotton with a Portuguese cork handle.

The products are available on the website and can also be bought in Lagos at the Levante Market, every Saturday morning, or at the Viv’o Mercado Organic Market, on Wednesday afternoons.

Follow Munchi on Instagram and Facebook.

Author: Inside Magazines

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