An Interview with Dave Hirschkop of Dave's Gourmet
For how long have you been making hot sauce?
I started making hot sauces in 1992 in my restaurant. In 1993 we launched Insanity Sauce nationally and created the whole super hot niche.
How did you get started making hot sauce?
Hot sauces were a natural part of our menu at Burrito Madness (my restaurant). What got interesting was when I started really playing around with different and hotter chiles and then chile extracts.
When did you go commercial?
In 1993 we went to the National Fiery Foods Show in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Our sauce got banned from the show for being too hot. The New York Times picked up on that and our business got off to a fast start. People also seemed to like the sauce being named Insanity and me wearing a straight jacket at trade shows.
How many bottles of hot sauce do you produce a year?
We produce two or three million bottles of sauce per year and we are growing quickly. This is split between pasta sauces and hot sauces.
Do you have a preferred chili pepper as an ingredient?
I always liked the idea and taste of chipotles, but they can really limit the flavor of many items. Habaneros are great, but have a particular profile and set of uses. Serranos have always been a chile that has a great flavor and solid heat. I guess that I am having trouble deciding. We have had fun working with the Ghost chile over the past few years and we do use quite a bit of roasted red bell pepper.
Aside from chili peppers, what do you feel is the key ingredient(s) in making the perfect hot sauce?
There is no one perfect ingredient. The key is understanding what the key ingredients are in any particular sauce and using great quality. To me sauces are about the proper balance of fantastic flavors.
Is there a special process you follow in making your hot sauces?
We have many different hot sauces with different processes. One aspect of a number of our sauces is that we use mostly fresh ingredients (not canned, frozen, dried, etc.). For certain sauces that can make a great difference.
Do you follow a particular philosophy to making hot sauces?
My philosophy is to deliver on what you promise. If you are making a super hot sauce, make sure it is super hot. If you are making a medium heat jalapeno sauce, does it taste like jalapeno, are the other flavors truly complementary to jalapenos, and does the sauce have exceptional flavor when using it on all the foods that you would expect to use it on?
Do you have any other favorite spicy foods?
I love burritos and spicy tuna hand rolls, thai curries, and chile con carne.
Do you have any advice for would-be hot sauce makers making sauces at home?
There are thousands of hot sauces out there. The market and consumers don’t need or really want new sauces unless they are innovative and/or exceptional. My advice is keep remaking your sauce until it is really something special as judged by strangers. If you don’t plan on selling the sauce, then just have fun with it and make whatever you like.
Imagine this sad reality: If you could have only one chili pepper the rest of your life, which would you choose and why?
I would break the rules, innovate, cross breed and create new chiles. To do that I would need to start with a hotter chile. Let’s start with the Ghost Chile.
If your life could be turned into a movie, who would you like to have play YOU on the big screen? What might the movie TITLE be?
Ouch, that is a hard question. My story is only half way over (I hope). The title might be "NEXT" and the actor could be an unknown or someone who likes different parts (Robin Williams?). The title is due to my mindset that I am always looking for the next innovation or exciting idea or project. This could be bicycling across America or creating an Adjustable Heat Hot Sauce. I really hope to one day use innovation to dramatically improve people’s lives.
Any other parting thoughts?
Like the great philosophers Ted and Bill said – "Party on and be excellent."
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