See all the photos HERE
In Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey, King Ulysses understands clearly the dangers of listening to the Sirens’ song. Not interested in following his drowning predecessors’ footsteps, he took the precaution of having his men tie him to a mast so that he could have a sample. Mankind has continued to enjoy tasting danger in safe samples ever since.
This of course brings us to the first Annual NYC Hot Sauce expo. 2 days and several dozen of the country’s most cutting edge producers of hot sauce ready for a mob of New Yorkers begging for some palate flogging. When the ingredients themselves are named after scorpions and poltergeist, it’s very clear cut that this is gonna hurt.
My role in all this was to cook up some Mangalista pork shoulders, kindly supplied by Mosefund Farms, for the VIP section. For the event I stuck with my classic Brunswick County rub recipe and slow smoked these beautifully marbled pork shoulders with oak for over 12 hours til meltingly tender. Mangalista is the PRIME-grade of pork. It’s heavily marbled and full of luscious porcine flavor that stands out even with the heavy smoking.
To pair it off I decided to change up my normal slaw for something a bit more interesting. So balance out the most expensive heritage pork in the country, I ended up creating the priciest slaw I’ve ever made. Now no one really thinks about the slaw, at least no Pitmaster I know thinks thru their slaw. On any given menu, the slaw recipe had as much time invested in it as the picking of which paper napkin to offer. Possibly less as paper napkins add up so choose wisely!
Many people for events will simply buy some slaw mix. This is to not to say the thought did come into my head once, twice or 40 times during the night. I’ve been working all week and the cabbage was gonna be given away for free anyway. There I was standing at the wholesale market ready to grab 2 cases of coleslaw mix and finally couldn’t bring myself to do it. Off I went to buy an entire box of fresh cabbage and 30lbs of 4 different varieties of apples. Late into the evening I prepared the dressing for my offering of the day – Sweet Apple-Mustard Slaw. A proper garnish for my pricey pig.
Slaw in North Carolina has to be sweet. This is a counter point to the spicy tangy vinegar sauce that dresses my pork. And it seemed that people enjoyed it quite a bit. The best reaction I got out of the day was this woman who claimed to only sample tiny nibbles of various samples in order to not be filled up my any one vendor. Well she took a bite; pupils dilated; and exclaimed “Ohmygawd”, before inhaling the entire sample. She then took two more. Seems like our BBQ pork found the perfect partner.
Being in the VIP area sounded like the best gig ever. After all, it’s VIP! Unfortunately for me, my tardy entry into the schedule meant I was planted next to the entrance facing the water. In any other worlds this would have been the most glorious spot to be. Refreshing breeze, glittering water, and being the last thing VIPs saw before they headed out to the crowd. Alas this was done during an NYC Spring.
The wind coming from the waters were absolutely frigid! Being next to entrance effectively put me at the beginning of a wind tunnel. All my stuff was being blow away – my tiny 2oz serving cups, my banner, my napkins, etc. Not the coziest serving space. I think they might still be attempting to scrap some of my slaw off the ceiling.
Overall we had a very positive reception from the crowd, with people coming back many times for more pork. The Jarlsberg grilled cheese people were kind enough to keep us fed while the folks from Manhattan beers kept my crew well lubricated with brews. Clearly people were having a great time. WDM & I even got to escape for a bit an sample some of the hot sauces. My favorite being A&B their use of a carrot puree is absolutely genius and really got me to start thinking through what else I can do on my mustard sauces. My other favorite was Evil Seed, if for no other reason than their artwork and marketing being utterly inspired. They had these fantastic devil looking koozies for your sauce bottles and a “Big Evil” BBQ sauce seasoned with, get this, BACON BITS… mind blown. I really wanted to try the offerings from Empire Biscuits but I think they ran out before I could get to them. I smelled their food all afternoon but couldn’t escape my table. I also enjoyed the Chocolate Ghost Chili Salsa from Chesterville Pepper Co – this one fooled me twice (1) there’s no chocolate in it, it’s a TYPE of ghost chili (2) it seems pretty tame but the heat comes slowly, slowly, slowly, Oh dear Jesus it hurts, it hurts, why? why? why did I just do that?
My least favorite hot sauce person wasn’t even a vendor there! Some woman from Men Pa’w hot sauce was too cheap to pay for a table and was too cheap to bring in crackers or spoons for people to try her sauce. So she basically hovered around my table using my food as the “base” for her vile seasoning. There were several adverse reactions from people who she gave my BBQ as a sample with her sauce on top. It wasn’t pretty…. And to make matters worse, some thought we were in it together! So I had to kindly ask her to stop using my samples to sell her hot sauce. Took a few tries to shoo her away and yet she still kept coming back! You’d think she’d go get some Ritz crackers or something. Very unprofessional. So buy more Evil Seed and A&B and avoid Men Pa’w like the plague!
I also really wished I got to see the eating contests. From all accounts they were the highlights of the day. Not sure what it says about us as a society that we enjoy watching people torment themselves with these uber spicy eating contests, but we do.
It was a great first run at the NYC Hot Sauce Expo. I had a good deal of fun and I hope that it does indeed become an annual event. Perhaps next year I’ll set up a milk vending station. People definitely needed it!