Friends doing it with Local & Farm Fresh Food

Sweet Heat Gourmet
By
Shellie Mierwald

Two Hot Sauce Companies with a Passion for Local up for National Prestigious Award

Recently the finalists were announced for the 2016 Good Food Awards.  The Good Food Awards is a prestigious award in the food community that honors local makers, farmers, artisan food producers, etc. that are committed to using as much local product as possible, and are committed to using a sustainable food source to produce their unique products.  They received 1,937 entries for various categories this year, and the winners will be announced Friday, January 15, 2016, at a gala Awards Ceremony at Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture in San Francisco.

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Two companies in our Chilehead community have been honored by being named finalists in the competition.  Scott Zalkind with Lucky Dog Hot Sauces and Andrew Garrett with NW Elixirs.  I spoke to both of them what it means to them to be nominated for the award, and what it means to them to support local within their own companies.
I asked both Scott and Andrew how long they have been in business, and to tell me a little bit more about the products they make.

Zalkind states that Lucky Dog has been in business for roughly 3 ½ years. Before he started his business, he was a healthcare project manager, making sauces and giving them away to friends and families.  After handing out 1000’s of bottles of sauce, and ruining a meal with a subpar, extract based sauce, he decided to start experimenting.  Zalkind says “While puttering around the kitchen, grilling peppers and roasting garlic, a funny thing happened – I found myself totally relaxed and stress-free for the first time in a decade. Project Management can be incredibly stressful, and in health care especially so.  So from there, making hot sauce on the weekends became my zen, and after a few years, my creations went from being pretty terrible, to being sort of edible, and eventually actually tasting good!  Then after about 4 years, people started asking if they could buy them, and encouraging me to start selling them.  The feedback grew louder over the years and folks pushed me to get it going, so in my 7th year of sauce making, I began the process of starting a sauce company.  I figured I’m not the 1st to do it, so how hard could it be, right? Hard.  The answer is that it was hard!”

Andrew Garrett from NW Elixirs credits his father for forming his roots for the love of cooking and living in California and being able to work with quality, local, fresh ingredients. After a tour in the military that took him to Europe for 5 years, Garrett was able to hone his culinary skills and formed a life-long love of cooking.  He decided to return to college on the GI Bill, and while working on a management product, he began looking into the rise of the hot sauce industry.  Garrett states “At the time I had read a culinary magazine that had an article about hot sauce and the growing trend in American pallets.  I started a bit of market research, did some marketing classes, learned a bit about public speaking, and put a sauce I had been making at last my Chef job into a bottle.  This was supposed to be a college project.  In the process I found that within the hot sauce market there was room for a sauce that was beyond spicy.  I saw a need for a product that would compliment food.  Something that could make cooking a little more spicy a bit more interesting, and completely complimenting.  With my fine dining background I wanted to layer the flavors, create a balance.”  NW Elixirs came to be 4 years ago.

Both Zalkind and Garrett heard about the awards in their communities.  Zalkind had seen winning products with the Good Food Awards emblem where he lives, outside of San Francisco.  Garrett says that the Portland, Oregon community is steeped in rich local products and it is a huge part of the market where he is from.  Both had been aware of the awards, but until this year, there was no category that hot sauce fit into.  This year is the first year the GFA’s have a “pantry division”.  Both leaped at the chance and found out in November they were finalists.  The finalist for Lucky Dog is their Brown Label – Ridiculously Tasty Mustard Chipotle Hot Sauce, and NW Elixirs has two sauces that are finalists, their Verde Hott #2 and the #3 Hott Smoke Hot Sauce.

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I asked them both what it means and how important it is to them personally, and as a business owner, to be committed to using local ingredients in their sauces. Zalkind says “Incredibly rewarding on both levels. Since I started, I’ve insisted on sourcing as much of my product from CA farmers as possible. It’s important for me to support my state, and also to keep my carbon footprint down when it comes to shipping ingredients. As such, my products cost quite a bit more to produce than they otherwise could have.”

Garrett says it is also very important and rewarding to him to be committed to the local and sustainable food movement, saying “What does it mean to me personally? Its unreal. To be included with companies like “Tails and Trotters and Olympia Provisions (http://www.tailsandtrotters.com/) is an outstanding opportunity! It means I have continued to follow along my roots as chef, to work towards doing my part to help set a standard for flavor and social responsibility.”

Both Zalkind and Garrett agree that using local is vital to sustaining local commerce.  Both are committed to supporting their local producers and hoping to educate others to the importance of buying and supporting local in their communities.  Garrett states “It’s always special when you can assist in pumping cash into the local economy.  It allows local companies to remain local and working towards a more sustainable food chain.” Zalkind agrees it’s important to his local customers that he supports his community with his commitment to using local ingredients.  “As a farmers market guy, it’s critical to my business to support CA farms. It is important to me personally, it’s important to the market organizations that I work with, and I know that it’s important to many of my customers.”

Being that the holiday season is upon us, I was curious to know how important it is to them that people shop local this holiday season, and if they thought the local food movement was a fad, or a trend.  Zalkind says that supporting local is vital during the holiday season, and encourages people to support small businesses, “More and more people are seeking out local goods during the holiday season, and I do the same with my gift purchases. I figure it’s better to buy a gift of one bottle of something really great than to buy 2 bottles of something mediocre for the same total price. Quality over Quantity, and all that. Most importantly, when I find products that I love, I want to make sure that I continue to support the companies that make them in order to help ensure that those products stick around for a while. In just 3.5 years, I’ve seen several products come and go at my markets, so you simply cannot take a small batch product for granted.”

Garrett agrees that it is a trend, not a flash in the pan fad, encouraging people to get out and shop for the local flavors in their town. “More and more people are starting to seek out the hidden gems located right in their home towns, that is for sure.  And with national awards recognizing those small businesses on a national level it just gives local communities the opportunity to find their favorite products made locally and with a ton of love.  I believe it is a trend, as folks continue to find flavors that remind them of past experiences locally they will continue to seek out more and more products that bring back memories. Consumers are smarter than ever, they read labels, they ask questions, and they care about their communities. These are the reasons this trend is on the up-swing.”

This holiday season; consider shopping in your own backyard for locally produced gifts. Shopping local boosts the economy in your area and supports business owners who have a passion and a gift for sharing their talents.  Lucky Dog Hot Sauces has forgone a one day sale, and is running a month long special for the holiday season.  You can find their products at www.luckydoghotsauces.com, and NW Elixir sauces at nwelixirs.com. Both products lines are also available at www.iburn.com, a local company based out of Houston, Texas. Check out their site for holiday specials as well.

Thanks again to Scott Zalkind and Andrew Garrett for taking the time to talk with me and good luck at the awards!  I’ll post a follow-up article on the ceremony in the March edition of Chilehead Monthly.  For more information on the Good Food Awards, visit www.goodfoodawards.org.

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