Friday, April 10, 2015

Voodoo Chiles Interview NYC Hot Sauce Expo 2015 Vendor

Thom Toth
Voodoo Chile Sauces & Ætérnus Sauceworks

Foodie and Hot Sauce Blog NYC/BRONX

Thom, what is the inspiration to make hot sauce and spicy foods your business?
Over the decades of cooking I've done, I somehow found myself drawn to enjoying the creation of sauces, marinades and salsas. The inspiration to actually follow this passion into a business endeavor came from a dear friend of mine who passed shortly before the NYC Hot Sauce Expo last March. For well over a year he repeatedly asked me why I wasn't taking this more seriously. Sadly, Don's sudden, tragic death somehow jolted me and that served as my wake-up call, I suppose. Oddly, one of Don's self-applied avatars in life was the Phoenix, rising from the ashes. We're debuting a sauce at the Expo that is dedicated to Don.

Prior to that, meeting Chuck Evans was also one of those instrumental moments in this journey. He made some comments about how I had done something special with that bacon sauce of ours (Porcus Infernum) and how I should seriously consider something more serious with it. To paraphrase a part of one of our conversations that stuck with me was, "you have something that very few of us create: something that belongs on shelves everywhere."

It took quite some time for me to really embrace that.

Best Sauce on the Planet - Allen Fry (Two Frys)
What is the road that led you to open Voodoo Chile Sauces?
I-95, baby! {Laughs}

I'm kidding, of course … but I do have to say that our trek to the NYC Hot Sauce Expo last year was definitely a catalyst. That's where we solidified our new bond with our first distributor, where Rose and I first started to establish our booth as something designed to be entertaining rather than the taste test equivalent of a feeding trough.   

I've been in and around restaurants and commercial kitchens since I was a teenager. When the hot sauce business sort went through one of its boom phases in the late 1990's or so, I got really irritable at falling in love with a new sauce and then having it disappear. My neighbor, Jason, ultimately pushed me to start taking my marinade recipes and retooling them into hot sauces. It was relatively natural progression, even if it took some time to refine.

What pushed me to feeling confident enough to consider making a real go at this business, in spite of how insanely over populated the field can be, was having the people behind the Peppadew® phenomenon approach and challenge me to make a sauce worthy of their name and reputation.  Nothing in the food realm has intimidated me more than that; at least not so far.

Thom Toth of  Voodoo Chiles
What is the secret of your success selling hot sauces?
There's really no secret, our sauces sell themselves. I don't do gimmicks, I don't follow the whole "me too" bandwagon. I do what I do because I am passionately in love with it, and it blows me away that so many other people seemingly have such similar tastes. The broad appeal of some of our sauces still sets me on my heels most any time I think about it.

But anyhow … there's no secret. It's all about passion and hard work.

Voodoo Chiles picture we took at the 2014 NYC Expo
What is the most satisfying thing about what you do, bringing the heat to the people?
Oh … that look that comes across the faces of people who evidently have a palate that love what I love; they taste something I've made, and you can tell by that look that washes across their face that they just "get it!"

THAT's what does it for me, man!

Something else that really gives me the "inner fist pump" moment is when someone comments on the layering that we do, be it with the flavor profile or the way the heat unfolds.

What is the number of hot sauces Voodoo Chile Sauces has available and some of your hottest selling names?
I've not really set a hard line in the sand as yet. We have about 6 main sauces; they each have their season when they sell well. We have a number of new sauces debuting at the Expo this year, as well as a whole new sauce line: Ætérnus Sauceworks.

Our biggest seller is Porcus Infernum, of course. Next in tow behind that is a pretty tight clutch of sauces, but Psycho Tropic was our #2 regular repeat seller for 2014. We're blessed in that we have a huge percentage of repeat customers!

As for the new sauces to debut at the NYC Hot Sauce Expo, we have BACON TACO, which is a warmer, beefed up cousin to Porcus, but with a bold nod to the traditional taco sauce flavors. PHOENIX is our super food super sauce, for lack of a better description. It's a hot sauce built around a blend of fruits for my smoothie mix (being sold by the name of Voodoo D-Tox), with some additions, including a blend of delicious, and deliciously warm, peppers. This will be towards the upper end of heat for the Voodoo Chile line.

We recently pulled our line of extreme tinctures and rebranded them under a new label: Ætérnus Sauceworks. The label is devoted to extreme heat products and offers me an outlet to entertain the extreme heat side of things without chasing off any of my fans of the Voodoo Chile Sauces line. Last thing I want is to release a new sauce, have it go to distribution, and have someone try it and hate it so much that they'll forever remain reluctant to try something new from us again.

Ætérnus Sauceworks offers me an outlet to work with more extreme products, and Voodoo Chile Sauces will continue to stick to what our company is really all about: mild to medium, lots of flavor, and a unique delivery of layered flavor and heat.

Ætérnus Sauceworks is kicking off with Bacon-X (an extreme version of Porcus), as well as King of Pain (an extreme version of Psycho Tropic, for lack of a better definition), and Phoenix: Fire (the intense counterpart to Phoenix). We are also moving our Scorpion Venom line of extreme tinctures over to this label as well.

VooDew Honeydew, Porcus Infernum, Psycho Tropic at 2014 Expo.
What is your favorite type of fruit and/or vegetables?
Wow … tough call. I pretty much love everything, with the exception of non-fried okra and durian! {laughs}

Silliness aside, as far as sauce making, I can't say right now if I have a favorite. There's not much that scares me; I mean, heck, we even do hops infused malt vinegar for crying out loud! I've worked with everything from apples to zucchini, and a long list of ingredients in between. The go-to things include carrots, peanuts, tomatoes, tamarind, pineapple, and guava. I avoid passion fruit now because the yogurt business has seriously cornered that. I enjoy working with papaya, and just about every type of berry, with the exception of Acai. I wouldn't hold your breath on ever seeing that last one in any sauce of mine …

What is your favorite type of hot sauce, extreme or mild?
I prefer mild for a lot of reasons. For one, you can share and enjoy it with a much larger group of people, and it also forces the recipe to be good.

What is your favorite type of bbq sauce, spicy or sweet?
Easy peezy: SWEET! Being who I am and what I do, I can add spicy to about anything! For me, I dive into a pitmaster's mild sauces, be it sweet or savory, to find out what they're all about! Again, I can add a drop of Scorpion Venom or a dash of powdered extreme peppers and make anything hot.

Voodoo Chiles Hot Rubs and Extreme tinctures.
What are some of your other favorite small batch hot sauce companies?
Oh, man … you know I’m gonna catch some cra* for anybody I DON’T mention who's a friend, but let me try and stick with the first few that pop off the top of my head:
·        PuckerButt … Ed and I are truly brothers from another mother. We instantly hit it off when we met at John Hard's open house a couple years ago in Columbus, Ohio, and the two of us instantly jumped down the rabbit hole of friendship and business collaborations.
·        Hoboken Eddies … I've known about and have been enjoying his creations for a LONG time now! We finally met recently, and what a GREAT guy, but I've been of his sauces for quite some time!
·        Heartbreaking Dawns … every time I talk about truly artisan sauces, Johnny McLaughlin not only comes to mind, but his name almost ALWAYS gets added to the conversation. That dude is a force of nature, both in the kitchen and in front of the camera. What he crafts really rings a bell with what my taste buds enjoy.
·        High River Sauces … another easy one, both because of the person behind the name, as well as the quality and depth of his creations!
·        I may as well finish off the Big Apple Trifecta of Doom here and mention the Uber Cool Ed Bucholtz of Born to Hula. He can totally act like he's just making lucky guesses, but Ed can take some of the most domineering traditional Mexican / Central American chilies and create a work of art with them! When I met Ed and got to try his sauces, I immediately abandoned a few recipes I was working on; I crap you negative. I would rather refer business to him for someone that wants what he's got! What he does is freaking magic. Ghost of Ancho … need I say more?
·        Northwest Elixirs is another 'must have' in both my office and home fridge! Mr. Garrett knows his way around the kitchen and makes sauces that not only stand on their own, but they really shine like nobody's business when used as a cooking ingredient. Andrew is the man!
·        Aw, this is getting crazy long, I'm sorry … but I'd hate myself if I failed to drag Jeremy Walsh into this sloppy, saucy little hodgepodge of bromance. I have incredible respect for what he does. He can take some bold flavors and tame them into something wonderful! If you've not tried one of his latest creations, Double Dark, you had better deal with that neglectful nonsense on your own part, and now. My taste buds experience something that defies words suitable for mixed company when it comes to some of Jeremy's creations.

Whoa … I just noticed that everybody thus far has a totally AWESOME wife beside them! Probably not a coincidence! {Laughs}

·        For the garlic thing, I love Lucky Dog Sauces! Scotty Z must have a deep seeded hatred and/or fear of vampires! Most of the more recent up-starts would be in a world of hurt if they attempted to be as heavy handed with the garlic. Scott, on the other hand, the man delivers!
·        A huge point maker for me in the way of creativity and the crafting of cooking ingredients rather than condiments would be Jim O'Brien of Crazy Good Foods. Of course, given the depth of his formal training and background, he better deliver (and he does!)
·        Tim Bader at Volcanic Peppers.  Great dude, great products!

Aw, man … out of respect of your time and the attention span of your readers, I should cut it short. I do want to mention the guys at High Octane as well as Hot Line, both excellent guys with tasty treats … not to mention being Texas companies!

Voodoo Chile Sauces how many events do you attend each year?
Time has been at a premium for us, so choosing which shows we're going to work is not easy. Sauce specific events are fun … but that's far from my bread and butter and those things tend to draws the freaks out, and they're on the hunt for the BIG BURN! Maybe I'll fare a little better on these types of events now that we have Ætérnus on board.

The flavorful & unique VooDew HoneyDew Sauces 2014 Expo.
What is the hottest hot sauce you have ever tried?
SAUCE? As for natural, Ed Currie's (PuckerButt Pepper Co.), Reaper Squeezin's. If someone claims to have something hotter, that's all natural, I'm inclined to think they're lying, talking out their backside or struggling with some ego driven delusions. {Grins}

I've subjected myself to several extract sauces and those days are long gone. As someone who makes the world's most extreme tinctures, I'm baffled that extracts even exist. I'd rather gnaw soot covered bubble gum off of the pavement of a dank back alley than ever be subjected to that cra* again. That stuff may be fine for something cosmetic, but for food? Uh, no.

Do you believe that hot sauce is good for you and others health?

What are your plans for Voodoo Chile Sauces in the future?
Apart from world domination? {Laughs}

I signed the exit papers from my career job at the end of December – I'm committed to full time Voodoo Chile Sauces now – so obviously some level of "success" is part of the plan here. We got about 1,100 gallons of sauce out the door last year, I'd like to at least double that amount in 2015, and then I have certain growth numbers for both sales and bottom line earnings that I'll be gunning for in the years to follow.

How many times have you been a Vendor at The NYC Hot Sauce Expo?
This is my 2nd year here. I LOVE it!

How do you like the amount of fans and vendors that this great event brings together in one place?
It's awesome! Steve really has something cool going on here.

How can our Two Frys Blog readers order your Voodoo Chile Sauces and products?
We still service our own web store, which is pretty old fashioned, sad to say. But if you go to, you can get to either Voodoo Chile or Ætérnus Sauceworks from there. Some portion of our product line can be found in most hot sauce stores or gourmet shops with a good sauce selection.

Any closing comments for our readers about your products and what they should try?
Ummm … all of them, obviously! {Laughs}

Actually, not all sauces are for all people. Something that I believe sets our sauces is that they offer a layered experience, both in the way of flavors as well as heat. I've spent a lot of years cataloging a pretty substantial number of peppers, noting not just their flavor and heat level, but the type of heat they present. Some peppers are right up on the front of the tongue with a really quick blast of heat; others work the middle of the palate, and still others have a long fuse and focus on the rear of the palate and back of the throat. You'll notice that the majority of our sauces incorporate numerous types of peppers; that's why!

Porcus Infernum: like I said, it's our flagship product, its bacon; it has enjoyed some of the most rabid reviews, ever. Try it.

Psycho Tropic: fruity, wins awards, gets fantastic reviews. I tried to one-up the few sauces I've tried over the years that focused on Pineapple, only because I refuse to play the "me too" game. I feel like we've done that.

VooDew HoneyDoo: these are our Peppadew® based sauces. We remain the sole contract manufacturer's of Peppadew® hot sauces on the planet. We have a Mild version that's ultra mild, and the Hot version is pretty toasty!

Bacon Taco: it's a traditional taco sauce wrapped around the core of the Porcus Infernum recipe.

Bhuty Thyme: if there's a more transparent hot sauce for warming up pizza, spaghetti, lasagna or meatball subs, I've not yet met it! Think: homemade marinara sauce with extra Thyme and a nice dose of ghost chile (Bhut Jolokia).

Bacon-X: this is from Ætérnus Sauceworks label, but it's Porcus Infernum, from hell. It's really, REALLY hot!

Phoenix: based on our tropical smoothie mix, Voodoo D-Tox, this super food fruit sauce is made with cranberries, blueberries, apple juice, pomegranate juice, carrots, ginger, green tea and more … the Voodoo Chile Sauces version is medium heat, and Phoenix: Fire (sold via the Ætérnus Sauceworks label) is extremely hot.

We have a number of other products, but I feel like I've babbled enough for one day!

Thanks to Thom for the Saucesome look at Voodoo Chiles and Ætérnus Sauceworks, Allen 

Voodoo & Ætérnus Sauceworks Website:

NYC Hot Sauce Expo: NYC Hot Sauce Expo

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