Danielle A. Scruggs
"I don't know if you've ever had pureed jalapeño in your eye, but if you can imagine 100 drunk wasps trying to attack your face, that is what it feels like," hot-sauce hobbyist Theodore Hahn says.
Chicagoans is a first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford. This week's Chicagoan is Theodore Hahn, 42, hot-sauce hobbyist.
"For a long amount of time I was basically a beige-atarian. I grew up in Wisconsin in a family of Korean immigrants, and my mother cooked Korean food deliciously, but I, being a gigantic idiot, was very, very picky. It wasn't until, like, high school that I realized I should just shut the fuck up and start appreciating it.
"By the time I started to get really nutso about food, I didn't have any preconceived notions as to what I should try or what was good or what was lame. All I knew was that there was so much more stuff out there that I wanted to cram into my face. And then my college years coincided almost exactly with the introduction of the Food Network.
"A few years ago, I went online to see if there was any way to doctor up Huy Fong sriracha. That's the rooster sauce you get at Thai or Vietnamese restaurants. I found a basic recipe, and I tinkered around for a couple years, and everything I made was terrible. I have a bottle saved somewhere that you could pour into your car and drive to Milwaukee with.
"Finally I got to a version that I thought people might like. It's called Wrath of Hahn
, and I want to give 100 percent credit to my genius friend Holly Dunsworth for coming up with that, because there is literally no other possible fucking name for this hot sauce.
Courtesy Theodore Hahn
Of Wrath of Hahn, its maker says "there is literally no other possible fucking name for this hot sauce."
"Anyway, to incentivize myself to get it out the door, I told my friends, 'I will trade this for whatever you want to make—candy bars, muffins, other sauces, whatever.' I thought I'd get a couple dozen friends to do it. It turned out everybody and their mom wanted to try this hot sauce. I did it again last year, and even more people wanted to get in on it.
"The demand got so crazy that I realized I had to charge money. That said, there is no money in this at all. What little extra I've made I've just put into buying a fridge to store the stuff. In early September, I'm putting up 300 jars for sale—150 of the hot sauce and then 150 of a vinegar-pepper sauce. And when they're gone, that's it.
"It's very laborious, blending the peppers and garlic with brown sugar and salt to ferment. I have to do it out of my folks' house, because if you try to boil and blend and process 20 gallons of fermented red jalapeños and habaneros in a condo in the South Loop, I'm pretty sure the co-op board will throw you out a window.
"Now I wear gloves and goggles all the time. In years past, I have taken a rather cavalier attitude towards this sort of thing and have been punished for my hubris. Once, as I was cleaning up, I had sweat drip into my eye, and I wiped it away with my fingers. I don't know if you've ever had pureed jalapeño in your eye, but if you can imagine 100 drunk wasps trying to attack your face, that is what it feels like. You're basically just flushing and flushing and flushing and then lying down and then swearing a lot in front of your Baptist mom."