Get sauced: How Tampa's Intensity Academy turned carrots into gourmet sauce success

Four years ago Michele Northrup of Tampa had a bunch of organic carrots and an unique idea for an all natural hot sauce. Four years later, she and her husband have a nationally recognized, award-winning gourmet sauce company, Intensity Academy.

Rewind to 2006. Michele, the head of Public Relations and fundraising for Learning Gate Community School in Lutz, was in charge of taking over as substitute teacher for a class for a few days. Learning Gate's students maintain an organic garden on the grounds and it was Michele's temporary charges who were responsible for tending to it on this certain day. Carrots were the main haul from the garden and Michele told each of the students to take some home and create a brand new recipe using them. Not wanting to be left out of the fun, Michele had the bright idea of using her carrots to make hot sauce. She wanted the sauce to be unlike than the majority she had seen on the market, which all used water, vinegar and peppers as their main ingredients, so she made the carrots her leading ingredient — juice, pulp and all.

Michele's sauce won rave reviews from friends, family and co-workers — so much so that they were demanding more of the spicy, orange concoction. Needless to say, it made a great holiday gift that year. Due to the pleading and prodding from her fans, Michele and her husband turned this culinary whim into a tasty little business in early 2007 (Tax Day, to be exact).

While running for title of "Guv'na" of Lutz (the mock is a local fundraiser), she used grassroots marketing to sell her product, all proceeds of which were donated to nonprofit organizations. Raising over $17,000, Michele took the title and the peoples' tastebuds, further getting the word out about her gourmet hot sauce.

Fast forward to present day. While keeping her position at Learning Gate, Michele and her husband have created even more zesty sauces and are traveling all over the country just about every weekend spread their saucy gospel and leaving new fans in their wake.

The original all natural, carrot-based recipe has grown into four different hot sauce recipes (of varying Scoville levels): Carrot Karma, Chai Chipotle, Garlic Goodness, Hot Squared, and Hot Cubed. They have developed organic chai and green tea-based sauces and marinades that have been added to the Intensity Academy lineup: the Asian inspired Chai Thai Teriyaki and Green Tea Gourmet (which make great sauces, marinades and salad dressings), Chai Chipotle Q barbeque sauce, Chai Chipotle 'Chup, and Chai Curry 'Chup.

Tampa Bay isn't the only place that's taken notice of Intensity Academy, they've become national favorites with numerous awards and accolades under their belt. Their spicy Chai Chipotle 'Chup took first place for best spicy ketchup in the 2010 Scovie Awards held in Albuquerque, NM, and can now be found served at the new Burger Monger in Carrollwood.

As for future plans, Michele — now known as the "Saucy Queen" — plans on sticking to her motto by "creating flavors to make the world a saucier place to live...one bottle at a time."

Intensity Academy sauces can be found at Whole Foods Market Tampa and at over 60 different Walgreens stores around Tampa Bay, at their online store (intensityacademy.com) or you can just buy it from Michele herself at one of the local hot sauce festivals, like the Pinellas Pepper Fest in Pinellas Park and the 'I Like It Hot' Festival in Largo.

Michele has shared one of her saucy original recipes with us, the Chai Thai meatballs which she is often begged to bring to parties and school meetings. Having made them myself, I can vouch for their tastiness and craveability. Watch out: they're addictive!

Chai Thai Meatballs:

2 lbs frozen party style meatballs (or homemade ones)

1 bottle of Chai Thai Teriyaki

9 oz. Apricot Preserves

5 sprigs of green onion chopped

1. Mix all ingredients and roast in oven 350 for 40 minutes.

Check out Intensity Academy online (intensityacademy.com) to view the entire saucy lineup, purchase products and to see more of Michele's tasty original recipes. Follow her on Twitter at @SaucyQueen.

Photos credit PapergirlPress.

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