Chíngón Hot Sauce: changing the way San Diegans eat

BY CLAIRE BRYAN – The San Diego Union Tribune – August 6, 2014

Twenty years ago, Clyde Van Arsdall created his first all-natural habanero hot sauce for a contest at Lexington Market in Baltimore. In May, the KnB Wine Cellars executive chef moved his expanding sauce business from a small catering space to a factory in Lemon Grove.

The success of Arsdall’s Chíngón Hot Sauce has increased along with the growing demand for high-quality sauces produced by local craftspeople. According to a report from market researcher IBIS World, hot sauce production is currently the eighth fastest-growing industry in America.

U.S. restaurants are serving spicier foods, to cater to an increasingly multicultural population, Arsdall explained.

“Americans have been eating this type of food and built a tolerance to the spice of it,” Arsdall said. “More and more Americans want hot sauce.”

From the creation of the bottles to bottling the company’s sauce by hand, Chíngón Hot Sauce stays true to its “burn locally” tag line.

Derived from the Spanish verb chingar, “chíngón” is a term that can be interpreted to mean anything from “badass” to “edgy” in Southern California.

“Chíngón means the most awesome,” Arsdall said. “And that is what the salt and lime juice in our sauces do to the pepper; they make it the most awesome it can be.”

Arsdall and business partner Katherine Scott grew up in Coronado. The longtime friends have known each other since fourth grade. Arsdall returned to San Diego after graduating from Baltimore International Culinary College.

The origins of the hot sauce line date back to 1994, when Arsdall created the habanero pepper and lime sauce for the Baltimore competition.

He has continued to create hot sauces, mustards and sauerkraut in his current job as executive chef of KnB Wine Cellars, a bistro and wine bar in Del Cerro.

“Condiments are the things people don’t bother manufacturing, because these huge corporations have cornered the market on most of the hot sauces out there,” Arsdall said. “I just feel like there are so many opportunities right now.”

The two-week process to create the sauces begins with Arsdall’s family and friends helping to stem up to 1,000 pounds of peppers. After stemming, the peppers go into a grinder with salt to macerate for two days. Lime juice and vinegar are added, and the mash ferments for another three days before being bottled.

Most ingredients are the same in Chíngón’s three hot sauces, but the type of pepper used determines the flavor and the level of heat.

Big Rojo, the mild sauce, is made with red Fresno peppers that are naturally sweet.

Maquina Verde, the medium sauce, is made with jalapeño peppers from either central California or Mexico.

“The reason I chose the jalapeño was its mass popularity,” Arsdall said. “I wanted something that everyone can identify with. It is sort of the Budweiser of peppers, if you will. Everyone has had a jalapeño at some point.”

Stupid Hot, the hottest sauce, is Arsdall’s original sauce, made with fiery habanero peppers.

“It has an in-your-face heat without being unapproachable,” Arsdall said.

The sauces have been promoted with “guerrilla” marketing, using social media blasts with photos of Arsdall and Scott using their sauces at restaurants, and almost 3,500 bottles have been sold at KnB Wine Cellars. Today, Chíngón is being sold at six local markets and 12 restaurants, including at Taco Tuesdays at San Diego Padre games at Petco Park.

Chíngón Hot Sauce also manufactures homemade beer mustards, sauerkraut, habanero ranch salad dressing, and a version of Worcestershire sauce.

“I tried to make something that complements food rather than adding an additional layer,” Arsdall said. “We want to be table condiments. We want to be something everyone can approach on the table.”

Arsdall wants to change the world of hot sauce and the way San Diegans eat.

“Restaurants have gone so far to differentiate themselves from everyone else, but then when it gets down to the brass tacks, they are just the same as everyone else because they only offer that corporate hot sauce,” Arsdall said. “I really want to be on every table in San Diego. There is just no reason we should be getting hot sauce from companies that ship their peppers around the world.”

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Claire Bryan