Back in 2008, as Sharon Fernandes was working to launch to her Indian sauce line Stonehouse 27, her husband Sherwin served as her financial advisor and chief taster. "It really does take your relationship to another level when you're asking your husband to criticize your food," Fernandes says. But it was her son Noah who really kicked matters into gear.
Fernandes was one month pregnant. "I said, 'Well, I've got eight months to get this done." My husband said, 'How are you going to pull this off?' I said, "I'm going to do it."
And so she did.
The Stonehouse 27 line is now in approximately 1,400 stores across the country and includes six sauces — Tamarind & Garlic, Tomato & Chilies, Cilantro & Coconut, Dates & Tamarind, Mild Cashews & Cream, and Spicy Cashews & Cream — that retail for $5.49. They're available locally at Miss Cordelia's, Fresh Market, and Whole Foods.
Fernandes grew up in India. Her mother was of Portuguese origin and father was an Anglo-Indian. As Christian Indians, Fernandes says, their food was different from what she calls the "standard tikka masalas." "We'd have a roast beef marinated in a spice base for 48 hours. That was our Sunday dinner."
Fernandes' mother worked as a caterer, so there was food around all the time, but Fernandes admits she didn't appreciate it until she was sent to school in Australia as a teen. "It was a stark reality," she remembers. "I would make long-distance calls to my mom. These were very expensive phone calls from Australia to the Middle East asking my mom to very quickly give me these recipes."
After college, Fernandes worked as a computer engineer in New York and London. Her husband's job brought the couple and their daughter Isabela to the area, and they settled down in Germantown.
Wanting to get back into the workforce, Fernandes zeroed in on the sauces as a way to continue spending time with her family while doing what she enjoyed: cooking.
"I don't think I planned the whole thing out, but I always knew the end-goal, which was to get this out to as many people as possible and to create a company that had some core values, that could stand by its product," she says.
Fernandes describes going through 200 batches to achieve a sauce that met her exacting standards, cramming her garage full with boxes of rejected ingredients, and auditioning manufacturers that were taken aback by her strong will. "The Cashews & Cream sauce — that was so hard," she says. "When I gave my process to a manufacturing facility, they said, 'You've got to be kidding.' I said, 'No. You do it or you don't do it, but I'm not compromising my standards.'"
The Stonehouse of the name is a nod to her father's heritage, the 27 refers to the top-secret blend of spices that Fernandes makes herself to send to her manufacturer. Each of the sauces has a different texture and is made with premium ingredients (no dehydrated herbs or onions). They are designed for both the health-conscious consumer, with low-sodium, no gluten, and agave nectar instead of refined sugars, and for the time-crunched, with an aromatic and hearty meal for four ready after a few minutes of simmering.
The popular Tamarind & Garlic features tomatoes and coconut milk and is excellent with shrimp, Fernandes says. The Tomatoes & Chilies works well with tofu, and with a bit of sour cream the Cilantro & Coconut turns into a dip for crackers and tortilla chips. For the Dates & Tamarind, Fernandes suggests trying out her recipe for ratatouille, which is available on the website.
Fernandes is now busy considering the next step for Stonehouse 27 — a line of frozen foods? Marinades? She's also doing a lot of traveling making sales calls and attending expos.
As for her son Noah, Stonehouse 27's little kickstarter ... he'll be three in September. Fernandes is convinced he developed a taste for the sauces while in the womb. "Let me tell you," she says, "my son has a very sophisticated palate. He spits up bland food."