A unique blend of ingredients is used to make Rushy Springs Chile Sauce. It's grown and bottled right here in East Tennessee. And the man behind the sauce is unique himself.
In almost every square inch of a Talbott home, you'll find a chile plant, fermenting chilies, chile powder, chile sauce, and the man behind it all is Jim Smith.
"I've always been connected in agriculture and farming in one form or another. My grandparents had land in a small town west of Chattanooga and at that time people had cows, pigs, chickens everything right in the middle of town," says Smith.
He grew up on a farm in Roane County and his life took him away from East Tennessee for a time.
"One day I was weeding my watermelon patch and the next day I find myself at Marion Military Institute in Alabama," says Smith.
He ended up graduating from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in New York. "My life very rapidly got diverted to the world class New York art scene," says Smith.
This is where he entered the world of still art photography. "Very very exciting, very intellectually stimulating," says Smith.
He worked with some of the top photographers in the world.
"I was fortunate enough to have met the right people early on and I was really on the cutting edge. One of my best friends was Robert Frank. I was a protege of Sid Kaplan who's probably one of the best black and white printers of the 21st century," says Smith.
His favorite things to photograph are classic cars, the New York Subway and his family farm here in East Tennessee. In fact, while he was in New York, he was never far.
"I would come down sometimes as much as three times a year or more and help out on the farm so I was never disconnected," says Smith.
And he was always researching agriculture. "It finally came to a point that philosophically and spiritually I had to either walk my talk or shut my mouth and at that point I decided it was time to come back to Tennessee," says Smith.
But it wasn't for long. "Ended up working on farms in Georgia, North Carolina, moved to North Carolina for a while and ran a garden for a gated community country club," says Smith.
Finally, he came home and bought his own land, now called Rushy Springs Farm. This is where he focused his attention on chilies.
"I've had a weird fascination with them all my life," says Smith.
He grows them and turns them into his own sauces and powders in countless varieties. "I use Riesling wine instead of water," says Smith. "They are all simply chile, wine, salt and xanthan gum."
"It's not cooked, it's not heated at any time so you are getting all the nutrients of the chile in a preserved form and enhanced flavor because of the fermentation process," says Smith.
This sauce has become popular with some well-known local restaurants like Crown and Goose, Rouxbarb and Sunspot. Despite the hard work and the long hours of his one-man operation, Jim loves what he does on a deeper level.
"The moments when I have enough peace to actually have my hands in the soil connecting with something in the environment, whether it's human or otherwise, those are the things that just take me off the face of the earth," says Smith.
Jim Smith, an art photographer by trade, a passionate farmer in his heart.
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