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Hot Confessions

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Hot Confessions
Photos by Jonathan Boncek

SOME (CHEFS) LIKE IT HOT

Do you remember your first bite of hot sauce that “bit back”? We asked some of our favorite chefs for their first hot sauce experience, and here’s what they had to say:

TREVOR HIGGINS /  Roost / Greenville, SC

Favorite SauceCholula has a good balance of hot and sweet. I also like Texas Pete.
Strongest Memory / I went camping at the Grand Canyon with my friends and bought a hot sauce I’d read about called Da Bomb Final Answer. One bite and you were done. It “killed the mill” as we say. I remember that hot sauce as well as I remember the Grand Canyon.
Hot Sauce Musings / I put hot sauce in most cream-based dishes: she crab soup, Alfredo sauce, creamed corn, broccoli cheddar soup, even mac and cheese.

CONOR HANLON / The Dutch at W South Beach / Miami, FL

Favorite SaucesCholulaCrystalSriracha, and El Yucateco’s Chile Habanero
Strongest Memory / When I was about thirteen, I spent a summer in upstate New York. There was a little pizzeria in the center of town with a sign that read “volcano wings” promising a free pitcher of beer (or for kids, soda) to anyone who could eat a dozen wings. The first time we tried, my cousin Jamie got a nosebleed by his second wing. I don’t really know if it was caused by the hot sauce, but at the time we were sure it was. After a few failed attempts that summer, I was determined. One day I ordered a dozen wings to go. I sat down at my grandma’s kitchen table with a gallon of milk and a bowl of ice cubes for my fingers. It wasn’t pleasant, but I prevailed!

DEB PAQUETTE / Etch / Nashville, TN

Favorite Sauce / Gochujang, Sriracha, and Sambal Oelek. But nothing beats TABASCO® for the perfect Bloody Mary.
Strongest Memory / In 1984, I was a sous chef at the Hyatt Regency Nashville. The chef was into making the most ridiculous hot sauces he could and getting his staff to try them. One day, the other sous downed quite a bit of the chef’s new brew. The next day, he could not even sit down. His eyes matched the pain he was incurring below.
Hot Sauce Musings / Hot sauce should add punch and spice to dishes, not kill the taste buds but enhance the food. I love the power of chiles.

REUVEN SUGARMAN / Toro Toro Miami at InterContinental Miami / Miami, FL

Favorite Sauce Cholula. It has a perfect harmony of pequin and arbol chiles.
First Time / Age five. I grew up with a British father and for breakfast he would always eat beans on toast covered with melted cheese and copious amounts of Louisiana-style hot sauce. The initial taste of the Louisiana-style hot sauce was at first overwhelming for such a young palate. I did not like it at first. My father told me, “You’ll get used to it, now shut up and keep eating your breakfast!” The more I continued to eat my breakfast I started to accept it and actually ended up adding more hot sauce. Imagine, at the age of five I was putting Louisiana hot sauce on everything!
Hot Sauce Musings / Most people fight harder addictions in life, but for me hot sauce was my first addiction and I have not been able to kick it since.

JOEY PEARSON / Nose Dive / Greenville, SC

Favorite SauceCrystal
Strongest Memory / Trying Dave’s Insanity. It was a revelation that something could have so much heat but also a great flavor.
Hot Sauce Musings / I come from a family of spice fanatics. My grandfather’s favorite saying was “It ain’t hot!” which he said as he gave you a taste of an undoubtedly taste bud-incinerating concoction. His saying is actually framed in the kitchen of the Westview-Fairforest Fire Department. He often made really hot chow-chow with peppers he grew himself.

JAMIE DEROSA / Tongue & Cheek / Miami Beach, FL

Favorite Sauce / A spicy vinegar we make ourselves with pimento peppers.
Strongest Memory / In 2007, I traveled to Thailand. We took elephants into the jungle for a seven-course snake dinner. The guide had a small bottle of homemade Thai pepper hot sauce that looked like something from the movie Deliverance. One drop on my noodle dish and I was soaking in sweat. Then we had to ride the elephants through the jungle with no water or break for the next few hours. Excruciating!

AARON CROSS / Fossett’s at Keswick Hall / Keswick, VA

Favorite Sauce / TABASCO® for everyday use.
First Time / At Señor Taco in Knoxville, Tennessee. Habanero salsa verde changed my life. Somehow they managed to balance insane heat with killer flavor.
Hot Sauce Musings / I try to make a large batch of fermented hot sauce at the end of the growing season with a blend of whatever peppers are left over from the garden at Keswick. Sometimes I throw a piece of charred hickory in there to give it a nice smoky note while fermenting.

NICO ROMO / Fish / Charleston, SC

Favorite SauceSriracha
First Time / When I was twelve, I went camping with my parents in the northern Bretagne [Brittany] region of France. A Vietnamese man in the neighboring campsite invited the family over for spring rolls. Having never tasted this type of cuisine before, I enthusiastically dunked my spring roll into the dipping sauce, only to realize it was mixed with a heavy hand of Sriracha. I don’t remember much except the intense burn that set my mouth on fire.
Hot Sauce Musings / We make Sriracha aioli and Sriracha ketchup. That Vietnamese camper definitely influenced my future cuisine!

PAULA DASILVA / 1500 Degrees at Eden Roc Renaissance / Miami Beach, FL

Favorite Sauce / Cholula
Strongest Memory / A friend brought me back a hot sauce from Jamaica called “Big Dicks” and it was hot as hell. I think they used habanero peppers.
Hot Sauce Musings / The perfect hot sauce has a great consistency, acid, and the perfect amount of heat and flavors.

WALTER BUNDY / Lemaire at The Jefferson Hotel / Richmond, VA

Favorite SauceTABASCO®CrystalCholulaSriracha. But we like to make our own at Lemaire.
Strongest Memory / At the Coyote Café where I used to work in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which had so many cool and unique chiles and spices.
Hot Sauce Musings / Last year we made a Howlin’ Halloween Hot Sauce which was bright orange from ripe habaneros and a Hells Bells X-Mas Hot Sauce with deep red chiles (fermented for about six weeks). There’s nothing better than growing your own and then making them into an aged hot sauce that lasts a long time.