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Mavis-Jay + Sicily Sierra

Food + People

Chef-community builders Mavis-Jay and Sicily Sierra set out to uplift Black food stories, culture and heritage from a place of joy and resilience. And that means, in part, making delicious hot sauces and a sweet and smokey dry rub and other mixes, available to all.


Always Hot, Fast and Black

The sweet and smokey rub is my top pick from Food + People because it can be used in so many delightfully unconventional ways, for example, on avocado toast, as a compound butter for pancakes or in coffee.

Mavis-Jay also tipped me off that she uses this sweet and smokey rub dry rub to Julia Turshen’s recipe for cream cheese frosting for an apple cake. At the Giving Broadly tasting at The Lantern in Wassaic, we loved that extra kick. Julia has graciously allowed us to share the recipe here with all of you.

a person sitting at a table with foodPhoto Credit: Janet Kim

A Conversation With...

Mavis-Jay + Sicily Sierra

When did you come up with the idea for Food + People?

We launched in February 2020. The name Food Plus People came from Sicily. She loves food and people. We figured it should be just that simple. We recognize the harm inflicted by systemic oppression where the two intersect for people of backgrounds similar to ours. We want to create a space that serves to uplift Black food stories, culture and heritage from a place of joy and resilience.

What is your creative process?

What makes our creative process different is that all of our products start by trying to solve a problem of a specific person who most large companies aren't thinking about… especially the very first F+P item we sold. It was a dry soup mix that Queer Soup Night passed out at Black Lives Matter protest in the spring. It was just add water and heat. The pouch it came in was the measuring tool for the water. We set out to make a meal for someone with limited resources —time, money, refrigeration, space, utensils, pots, pantry items, measuring tools and major appliances. We also took into consideration the top eight allergies.

Photo Credit: Janet Kim

What was your first entrepreneurial endeavor?

Mavis-Jay: Car washing. When I was a pre-teen and wanted cash (for candy, movies, magazines, gifts), this was my go-to. If my mom dragged me along to hang out at her friend's house, I'd offer to wash the friend’s cars with whatever cleaning supplies they had. If I knew we were going ahead of time, I'd bring the stuff with me. People were always super happy to pay $10 for a random car wash that they didn't have to go out of their way to get. Plus people tip kids heavy. A house where multiple adults were hanging out was like a jackpot. This was a time before cell phones and the internet.

Sicily: Before I started acting, my mom would buy my brothers and me a box of chocolate and make us sell them in order to buy the things we wanted. I learned a lot about people. I learned the art of the hustle at the grocery store. The children outside of the grocery store selling candy that didn't come from a school-sponsored fundraiser still hold a special place in my heart. I'm like you don’t have to give me the spiel, here's some money.

What made you decide to start your business?

Sicily had an idea for a sauce that highlights the tops of leeks. She probably remade it over eight times in a row in our home kitchen. When she finally nailed it, it hit different. It was cool and sweet but still warm and sharp. It felt like summer. It felt like community. When we were working at a spot in New York City, on the Lower East Side, this leek sauce was a component of a dish. People would walk back to the pass at the open kitchen and ask, "What is this?" "Do you bottle this?" "Can I buy some to take home?"

I pushed to make the sauce into a business after the restaurant closed without warning. I didn't want to be caught like that ever again. Both of us were suddenly jobless. We needed to start focusing on passive income. We needed to have more of a say in how money was coming into our home, and preferably not from working in a NYC basement hotline that someone else owned.

Who is your angel and why?

SicilyDoes Jesus count?

Mavis-Jay: All facts! The Lord. You can’t tell me there's no God. Do you know how many near death experiences I've had? Twice, as a small child living in Alaska, I got into cars with complete strangers. There's no scientific reason I should have made it out of my 20's.

Did you ever consider giving up?

Mavis-Jay: My biggest challenge was letting go of who I thought I'd be so that I could become who I need to be. Learning how to body my own lane instead of listening to how society says things should be done.

Sicily: Everyday. But I hold fast to my dreams because if I keep giving up, I'll have to keep starting over.

Photo Credit: Janet Kim

What is your WHY?

Mavis-Jay: All of my work is fighting for Black food sovereignty. Food systems are now set up so there's no chance for the Black community to self-determine how we nourish ourselves from soil to fork. I hope to build a legacy that carries on for generations in my family. I hope to grow in a way that empowers our communities to be able to build generational wealth, founded on integrity and decency. 

Sicily: We really love Black people. I would love for the business to grow and eventually offer incubator space for other minority-owned businesses.

RECIPE: Applesauce Cake with Cream Cheese + Honey Frosting


We’ve grown to love working with Amber Mayfield of To Be Hosted over the last year. Amber is the founder of While Entertaining, a digital magazine that celebrates Black professionals and culture in F&B. Its inaugural release featured anecdotes, extended interviews and recipes from amazing chefs like Paola Velez, Zoe Adjonyoh and JJ Johnson. I adore While Entertaining as a space that honors Black stories with elegant framing, reverence for narratives dictated by those with lived experience and a modern perspective. Since While Entertaining is an annual publication, its audience has the ability to remain engaged with an illuminating and compressed, monthly periodical sent directly to their inbox. We've collaborated on several projects, including a Limited Edition holiday box with our hot sauce and rub as well as Hella Cocktail Co’s Classic Margarita Mixer.

Gift Boxes Are Available Here. Use the code BLACK15 for a $15 discount!