Proof positive that Columbus, Ohio is the nexus of hot sauce creativity is the up-and-coming hot sauce entrepreneurs known as the Sauce Cartel. We’ve known of Gary and Max, the creative forces of the company, for a while and have rubbed shoulders with them at a few industry events over the past year or so. Our first exposure to their sauces was at the 2007 Jungle Jim’s Weekend of Fire show where they were showing off their hot sauce wares to the hot sauce-adoring public. Since then, their company has undergone a name change (from Hell’s Kitchen to Sauce Cartel) and has broadened their product line to include salsas, jerk sauce, and even a spicy applesauce. As enthusiastic supporters of our hometown hot and spicy brethren, we thought it to be high time to shine the blog spotlight on the Sauce Cartel and let you hear a little from them and their products. Here is some info from Gary of the Sauce Cartel…
Tell us a little about you & Max’s background, and of the name of your company. How did you get into this business?
Ok, our backgrounds are completely different. I was a nail biter as a child, and as a way to stop me (or attempt to stop me) was to put hot sauce (which I called Red Water, when I was young) on my fingers. It didn’t bother me the way my parents thought it would. In fact, it had quite the opposite affect on me. As I grew so did my tolerance for spicy foods. As my tolerance grew, I found myself always looking for something new. When I was about 10 or 11 my parents leased a plot of land from a local farmer so my brother and I could grow our own vegetables. The funny thing is, my brother grew all sorts of stuff and I grew peppers. Mostly Jalapenos and Cayenne peppers. It was with those peppers that I attempted to make my first hot sauces.
Max was lucky enough to travel the world with his parents as he was growing up. Being that he has always liked food, he had the ability to taste different foods from around the world. Max is always found in his kitchen trying new recipes that he has picked up in his travels. Oddly enough he also found himself stranded in the Virgin Islands a few years ago. He had to work in a kitchen to make the money for the plane ticket back home. It was in that kitchen that he acquired the recipe for our Jerk Paste.
CaJohn gave the name of the company, Sauce Cartel, to us. We were having all sorts or issues trying to come up with a name that we felt we could not only stand behind, but would also project our image.
As for how we got into business, On May 5th 2007, I entered a hot sauce in an amateur contest, at the North Market in Columbus, Ohio. CaJohn was one of the judges. We didn’t win, but we did come in second place. Afterward, CaJohn and I spoke and he told me why he thinks we didn’t win. I was told that we have something with that sauce. So, I viewed it as this, Run with it. And that is exactly what we have done. Instead of find a co-packer, we took an enormous leap of faith. We built our own processing plant. We have now been in business for over a year.
You have been overflowing with praise for CaJohn and his influence on what you do with your products. What has that meant to you and how do you use his influence on your stuff for your business?
CaJohn is someone that I consider my friend. I consider myself extremely lucky to know him. Regarding his influence, the bottom line is that without CaJohn, there most likely would be no Sauce Cartel. When it comes to my products he has never come out and said what was good or bad about anything. He has however “hinted” or “nudged” us in the right direction. He has sent people looking for co-packing to me. As for what it means to me, I could never thank him enough for being so supportive. Some people give us grief because; they think we should view him as the competition. I totally disagree with that statement. Sure we both make hot sauce, but we also make different hot sauce.
We’ve seen you in quite a few “hot” contests…wing-eating, etc. Do you just like the endorphin rush of the super-hot stuff, the thrill of competing, or what?
The endorphin rush can be fun, but I do it because it seems to be the natural thing for me to do. I don’t do it to win; I do it for the experience.
Which of your products is your favorite, and why?
My personal favorites are Apple Bomb (because it is truly a unique product) and Burn In Love (because I enjoy the tropical fruit that in it). Max’s favorite is the Loruca Mayan. He is a huge fan of the sun-dried tomatoes.
Not including your own products, which hot & spicy products do you like to use and why?
CaJohns Scorch is my personal favorite. It packs a great heat, as well as a great taste. I also like Mild to Wild Red Savina® Garlic sauce. Goes great on pizza. Truth be told, I have a collection of 30 or so open bottles I currently use.
What’s more satisfying to you…making something really hot/spicy that you personally like or something that’s commercially successful?
Both. I would have to say at this point in the game, making something really hot/spicy that I personally like. Ask me again next year and I may have a different answer.
What new stuff, if any, do you have in the works for your loving public?
No moss grows under us that for sure. Yes we have a number of things that we are working on right now. 14 different products. Some not so hot, and some that will makes you feel like the which in the Wizard of Oz when she is melting.
Product list and our reviews:
All of the Sauce Cartel products feature great label artwork, particularly the hot sauces.
Ingredients: chipotle peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, cider vinegar, cayenne pepper, water
Taste: This is the mildest hot sauce of their line, and their best-selling sauce. This sauce is as thick as some of their others are thin, and it pours slowly through the bottle-neck. (Perhaps a little extra vinegar might liquify this sauce a little.) When the sauce emerges, its flavor is quite simply marvelous. The chipotle flavor is the dominant one, but I really dig sauces that are brave enough to work in some sun-dried tomatoes. While those seeds remain (I didn’t believe they belonged to the chipotles), the flavor is mild, smokey-sweet, and infectiously good. While this sauce could also use a touch of salt in its composition, the flavor is well-balanced and the sauce well-blended. While it is indeed good with meat (I liked it on chicken and ribs), it’s good enough to use as a condiment straight out of the bottle. Yummy!
Overall recommendation: It is for no small reason that this is their best-selling sauce. Milder and very accessible, this is most “complete” sauce of their current line in terms of flavor and heat (what little heat it has). This really is a sauce that everyone could use. Smokey and flavorful, it goes well with nearly everything. A true winner.
Ingredients: habanero peppers, orange juice, sweet and sour sauce (water, sugar, modified corn starch, vinegar, yams, tomato ketchup, apricot, red peppers, molasses, sodium benzoate, soybean oil, citric acid, salt, garlic powder), chili powder, brown sugar, tomato sauce
Taste: A sauce that is ostensibly a mixture of orange juice, sweet & sour sauce (with the preservatives that often come with commercially made ingredients, sadly), and habanero peppers. Fairly thin, it is well-mixed and pours easily from the bottle. The up-front taste is unmistakenly habanero, and lots of it! There is the background taste of orange and sweet & sour as well, but it comes as a bit of an aftertaste after the habanero heat fades. Did I say heat? Boy howdy, but this one does pack some serious heat to it…perhaps a 9/10 on my heat scale. Great with just about everything
I tried it upon, especially if you want to make it hot.
Overall recommendation: A fruity hot sauce that’s not too fruity makes for a good sauce. This one has good up-front heat and flavor, but could benefit from some other spices than brown sugar…perhaps a little salt and/or garlic to help add a little bite to the flavor profile. A good sauce to be sure, and one that I continue to experiment with on different foods.
Burn in Love
Ingredients: vinegar, habaneros, star fruit, papaya, kiwi, chili powder, garlic, salt, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, paprika
Taste: This sauce, like the Orange Explosion, takes a lot of flavor from fruit…but in a different way. Rather than from juice, this sauce features three distinct kinds of fruit. That said, the flavor is still dominantly habanero and vinegar, with hints of fruit and spice. The heat carries some potency as well, and I’d call this one 7.5/10 or so. This is another sauce that does the fruit part just right…as in not too much of it such that it becomes too sweet. A little bit heavy with chili powder and lemon juice, the flavor goes well with a variety of foods. We liked it mostly with meats, particularly chicken and ribs. Try mixing some of this with some mundane BBQ and slathering it over some ribs on the grill for a spicy, tasty treat. It was also great with chili, and was a fan favorite at my workplace as well.
Overall recommendation: Another spicy hot sauce treat. While it might benefit from a flavor tweak here and there, it’s an eminently usable sauce with good utility. This sauce has good habanero flavor with a hint of fruit flavor. While I found it good with a lot of meat (perhaps need to try it on pork as well), it would likely do well with a lot of meal choices. Your mileage with this sauce may vary, but likely to be enjoyed by chileheads who like the hotter sauces.
Apple Bomb Fiery Applesauce
Ingredients: apples, habanero peppers, vinegar, water, brown sugar
Taste: How is it that no one’s made this kind of product before? Beautiful in its simplicity, this is essentially some quality applesauce with some brown sugar and habaneros added for some spicy schwerve. You do get that up-front applesauce taste but with a serious habanero heat that follows. This is like applesauce on steroids, and is not for the faint of heart as it packs some serious heat. Perhaps 8/10 on my heat scale…and it builds. Texture and heat are great, but I found that the taste benefits from a little extra spice added. Tried with a little cinnamon, cloves, or allspice, that adds an element of balance to the unadulterated heat this product has.
Overall recommendation: While it is good eaten right out of the jar, try using this in your cooking or baking in place of that boring applesauce you’d normally get from the grocery store. Heat lovers, this is an applesauce for you. While it was bettered by a little tweaking from my spice cabinet, it’s no slouch all on its own. A fairly unique product that’s well worth your effort to try.
Ingredients: tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, bell peppers, onions, garlic, cilantro, sea salt
Taste: The aroma very much matches the taste, and is dominant in jalapeno and cilantro…which are two tastes which go very well together in this salsa. The tomato and bell pepper are a little thicker cut, which makes this a more “meaty” salsa compared to traditional versions which tend to be thinner in consistency. This is a great chip & dip salsa which is medium in heat, making it very accessible to a variety of palates. I easily see this as a great choice for use in nachos or slathered over your fave Mexican food dish. The flavor is fairly well-balanced yet it seemed to be one of those salsas that your mileage may vary depending on your choice of meal.
Overall recommendation: An everyday salsa for your snacking or cooking needs. Lots of all-natural ingredients and with medium heat. It won’t set your mouth afire, but is well worth your effort to munch out with this salsa next time you are jonesing for that accompaniment to those grocery-store tortilla chips!
Other Internet stories and reviews about the Sauce Cartel:
2231 S. James Rd. Columbus, OH 43232