With a passion for horticulture as firey as the chilli he grows, Dom Latassa of Elli Dom Produce in Gingin is a veritable green thumb whose crops (which include everything from tomatoes to chicory to the world’s hottest variety of chilli) flourish under his tender care.
Dom was just eight years of age in 1957 when he and his older sister took the epic voyage via boat from Italy to Australia on their own to join their father in their new home. Back then, growing your own produce was a necessity.
“In my younger days, when we migrated here things were pretty tough. To survive you had to grow your own stuff,” explains Dom.
This early experience, coupled with time working at a plant nursery with his cousin Joe, would build on Dom’s seemingly innate knowledge and love of watching a humble seed blossom into something wonderful.
However, it was a health scare that ultimately prompted Dom and his wife Elenor to make the move to their Coonabidgee property in 2017. Having suffered little illness through his life a diagnosis of vertigo, quite literally, hit Dom hard.
“It was a big setback to him,” explains Elenor. “He thought, ‘I can’t work for someone and sit down and have a break when I need to’. If he’s working here for himself, he can take a break when needed. Having said that, he’s pretty hard to keep up with!” she laughs. “He gets a task into his head and he just runs with it – you can’t stop him until it is done to his satisfaction.”
Their property now includes 4000sqms of meticulously planted crops, including the Guinness World Record holder for the world’s hottest chilli – the Carolina Reaper – and several others that top charts.
The heat of a chilli is measured by the Scoville Heat Unit (SHU). The SHU quantifies how spicy a chilli is by measuring the concentration of capsaicinoids (capsaicin is the chemical responsible for the spicy sensation). A regular jalapeño pepper sits between 2500 and 5000 Scoville Heat Units. The Carolina Reaper clocks a whopping 2,200,000 Scoville Heat Units. Other varieties grown at Elli Dom produce include Trinidad Scorpion, Bhut Jolokia Chocolate and Bhut Jolokia Ghost Pepper. The beauty of the fruit belies their potent qualities, with shiny skins in shades of deep red, vibrant orange, sunny yellow and the intriguing dark brown of the Bhut Jolokia Chocolate chilli.
While Elenor and Dom quite sensibly shy away from consuming these chillies, they are in high demand by the team at Wildfire Chilli. They take the red-hot fruit and turn them into sauces, jams and chutneys selling them online and at the Araluen Chilli Festival under the label Heatseekers Chilli. With the sauces containing 75% chilli puree they are not for the faint of heart.
Ironically, the plant that dishes out so much heat isn’t much of a fan of growing in those conditions, as Dom discovered.
“We had a bit of drama because of the heat. The plants weren’t doing much at all. Even working out there with boots on, my feet were getting burnt! We put a fix in place with the shade cloth cover and it did the trick,” he says.
Overcoming issues with watering was another task that required some new infrastructure.
“Every single plant has its own water jet – about seven kilometres of irrigation,” says Dom, who seems to thrive on these challenges. “It’s a lot of fun!”
With the Midas touch when it comes to growing – an experimental crop just to see how peas would fair in the conditions resulted in a harvest of 20 kilograms – you can expect to see more of Elli Dom produce available for sale locally in the future.
Despite their success, Dom remains pragmatic about his new found career.
“You’ve got to do something,” he says. “I just love growing.”
Elenor agrees, “He wanders around every morning, checks the plants, counts them and talks to them. He loves to grow things and he is very good at it.”