Vic Clinco is a hot sauce enthusiast who writes for Chile Pepper Magazine; here is a link to his Twitter page:
Q: What started your obsession with hot sauce?
A: I’m glad you used the word obsession because truly, that is what it is. As far back as I can remember, I have always loved spicy food. When I was a kid I can remember my family being in awe on the amount of red pepper flakes I would douse on my meals. Then like so many of us I moved upend cut my teeth on Tabasco. From there I sought out different types of sauces, again based on the wide availability, the Frank’s Red Hot, Crystal, Louisiana, but somewhere in my late high school years it was like a switch went off. I craved hotter and hotter, couldn’t find sauces hot enough and it’s been a quest ever since. This obsession has me scouring the internet for new sauces/company’s, treasure hunting every where I go, and carrying super hot chile powders and hot sauces with me every day.
Q: What do you think of the Sriracha Sauce craze?
A: It’s crazy right, I think it’s absolutely phenomenal. I am a fan of Sriracha as a whole, now you do know that Sriracha is a style, a type of hot sauce right? So the one brand we almost automatically think of is from Huy Fong. It’s the bright red sauce, signature green lid, and the rooster on the label. But that is just one brand, there are hundreds of Sriracha’s out there, heck even Tabasco, Frank’s and other mainstream and typically Louisiana styled specific company’s have thrown their hat in the Sriracha Ring. It’s awesome! We have major fast food company’s with a huge array of Sriracha menu items, the snack food options have absolutely exploded, clothing items… I can’t be more excited. Anything that adds to and helps bring attention to the hot sauce industry as a whole, I’m all for. Because “I put that @%#& on everything”.
Q: What are some of your favorite sauces and why?
A: Hands down I am partial to the Caribbean style sauces, I love that they tend to be thicker, pulpier with more pepper solids in them, and are bright with heat and almost explode with flavor. Some great and easy to locate examples are from Marie Sharp’s, Melinda’s and the Tropical Pepper Company. Though I am also a purest, I read the labels and the ingredients. My opinion is the simpler the better, if there a just a ton of ingredients a can’t pronounce, I typically pass, but I’ll collect it and put it on my shelves. I urge people who ask me “what should I get?” or “What’s good?”, get out and try sauces. Most people’s view into the hot sauce world is through their big box major grocery stores, man is that a small window of what is truly out there and available. In 2012 hot sauce production was the 8th fastest growing industry in the U.S. with thousands of small batch, artisan makers all over the country. There is so much incredible sauce made by incredible people its staggering. I tell people to hit the Farmers Markets, the Fresh Markets, the Produce Stands these are the places many of the producers go to sell their products. This way you can try before you buy, talk to the maker and ask questions. Another great outlet is the Hot Shop, the hot sauce and spicy food specific brick and mortar stores, yes a little harder to come by but growing in popularity and typically offer samples/tastings of sauces, you’ll just have to do some research to track one down around you.
Q: What foods should people use hot sauce on that they don’t?
A: Um, everything! Have you tried a nice fruit based (strawberry, blueberry, raspberry) hot sauce on ice cream yet? I’m telling you, you are so missing out. Add a few drops of those same fruit based sauces to your pancake or waffle mix. Stir a good Chipotle sauce into your chocolate chip cookie dough before baking, it will give them a cool smokiness and hint of spice. For drink applications try CaJohn’s Frostbite, cajohns.com, it is a clear hot sauce that excels in drinks because it is colorless and flavorless, it just adds heat to whatever you put it in. Seriously it awesome in margaritas, rum punch, manhattans you name. Even protein shakes and energy drinks and awesome spicy addition when you’re juicing. It also adds a zing to pickles, olives and any pickled veggies. Hers a simple recipe you can use as a dip for practically anything from sliced fruit to fried foods and so much more; 1 cup Sriracha, 1cup mayo and 1/2 cup honey… Mix well serve chilled. Garnish with a little ground ginger and maybe some thinly sliced green onion.
Q: What ingredients are key to a good hot sauce?
A: Just like in any cooking application; good, high quality products in will make the end product good and high quality, any Chef will concur. Your base ingredients can be as simple as chile peppers and vinegar, a little salt and pepper for seasoning and viola! Everything else is up to your tastes and/or your imagination. We are all different right, we all have different tastes, different likes and dislikes, and different heat tolerances. It’s a great time in hot sauce production right now because the popularity, the demand for flavor. Typically garlic, onion, and fruit are the most popular base ingredients, but again, sky’s the limit. I’ve had chocolate, coffee, beer, grapes, bacon, rum, and vodka just to name a few off the top of my head.
Q: What sort of work do you do?
A: My day job is for US Foods, I am a manager for their Cash and Carry division called CHEF’STORE, it’s a restaurant supply store. But by night I’m a Hot Sauce Rock Star! I write for Chile Pepper Magazine, it’s the largest nationally distributed publication on everything spicy. My article is titled “Sauce & Tell” and it touches base on the history and origins of hot sauce, my travels in the hot sauce trade show circuit, the evolution of my collection, and provides recipes for sauces, dips, condiments and spicy yumminess. I also have the pleasure to work with CaJohn’s Fiery Foods, a spicy food manufacturer out of Columbus, Ohio. My wife and I travel with CaJohn’s to the major hot sauce shows around the country and help in the booth. I actually run a hot sauce challenge, it’s called CaJohn’s Execution Station. What I do is challenge willing victim’s heat tolerance, I start them off the a Ghost Pepper based hot sauce and then walk them up the line through seven more sauces, each one getting progressively hotter and hotter. Yes, I did say I START with the Ghost Pepper! Simple, if the willing victims can endure the pain/heat, not pass out on me, and not throw up on my table, it’s happens, then they win cool swag and my undying admiration.
Q: What is the rarest bottle of hot sauce you have in your collection?
A: Not to brag, well maybe a little, but I’m fortunate enough to have some really cool and rare pieces in The Collection, I’ve been collecting for 20 years now and have some really exquisite pieces. I have one called Extreme Heat from Hell Fire Hot Sauce, there are only 5 of them in existence now. I have a very valued to me #1 of 10 signed Christmas Adam & Eve set from CaJohn’s, also a #1 of 10 10 oz. signed, wax topped Death from Blair’s & Extreme Foods. I could keep going, there are a lot of rare and hard to find bottles, many low numbered reserves and collectables throughout the room and I’m always looking to add more. I actually adopted a friends collection not to long ago and made a home for some really old bottles, some cool prototypes and unique pieces. Global hot sauce world domination is my goal and I will not deviate from my plan until I see it through.
Q: How did you get your job at Chile Pepper Magazine?
A: We were introduced at a hot sauce show in Louisiana, some of our friends who are hot sauce makers told them about our collection. Like the proud pappa I am, I whipped out my iPad and showed them pictures of The Collection. Also back in the day I was a hot sauce reviewer for a couple of blogs, with that experience and like any time I get talking about hot sauce, my passion floods through. I also have a trained culinary background, a few years ago I decided I needed a change, I had been in retail with a company for 21 years. I made the decision to attend Culinary School, part of the academic requirements was to do an internship. I did mine with the Four Seasons in Scottsdale Arizona and ended up staying on with them and running the employee dining program, I cooked for the troops. Putting all of this together, joining the Chile Pepper Team seemed to be the perfect fit.
Q: Are your friends hot sauce fans as well; are there parties?
A: Yes, a lot of them are and whenever anyone comes over the the house, the first discussion or topic is always hot sauce. The room is right when you come in, hard not to pass up. We entertain in there and yes I do host parties and get togethers in it as well… There’s an open invite by the way, just sayin’. I typically make spicy margaritas, put out some chips and cover the table with different sauces from all over the world so we can get our sauce on. I generally have over hundred or so in my pantry and between 30 to 40 in the fridge at all times. I guess I could also consider my house as a tasting room serving hot sauce flights.
Q: What is the best hot sauce for a Bloody Mary?
A: In my humble opinion a good Caribbean style Scotch Bonnet or Habanero sauce, I find that there thicker style tends to hold up better in the heavy tomato and spice recipe. Also the natural fruitiness of the Habs give the Bloody Mary a pop. I have found that the thinner heavy vinegar Louisiana style sauce dont hold up as well in making good Bloody’s, they seem to do much better in wing sauce applications. Though with the multitude of sauce options out there, you can take your Bloody Mary in different directions. Say you want to garnish one with bacon, well then I would suggest bacon hot sauce, baconhotsauce.com. What if you were looking do to one with a Southwestern flair, then go withHeartbreaking Dawns 1542 a Chocolate Habanero (Referring to the brown/chocolate color of the chile pepper), heartbreakingdawns.com.
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)