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Going Down in Flames

I love a challenge. Even challenges at which I know I will fail. On the surface, this sounds like a positive attitude. But what people often neglect to consider is that being habitually undissuaded from out-of-reach conquests often results in spectacular, crashing failure. Highly averse to spicy food from a young age, I began acclimating [...]
Jeni Ruisch

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I love a challenge. Even challenges at which I know I will fail. On the surface, this sounds like a positive attitude. But what people often neglect to consider is that being habitually undissuaded from out-of-reach conquests often results in spectacular, crashing failure.

Highly averse to spicy food from a young age, I began acclimating myself to the hot stuff about four years ago. Little by little, my heat ceiling was raised. I started getting a little cocky at restaurants and asking for higher and higher levels of spice, pushing my boundaries just a little bit at a time. My ability to taste new flavors in different peppers increased. Soon, I found my friends could not sample my food when we went out to eat. I found myself chasing the burn.

I decided to take on a fiery foods challenge for a story, and rounded up a small crowd of “volunteer victims.” Some friends and co-workers who had a predilection for spicy foods agreed to meet me at ground zero and take a taste bud journey through ascendingly heated hot sauces. I thought it best to seek the advice of a professional. Dustin “Doc” Cordray is my go-to answer-man for this piquant excursion. A member of the CaJohn’s Fiery Foods team, Doc is a seasoned professional when it comes to sauces, rubs, and soup bases. (See what I did there?)
The first thing we talk about is how to stop the pain.

When you’re first starting out and you’re not accustomed to hot things, it registers as pain. Why do people chase that?

There’s a gentleman named Jolokia Jonathan. He is a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. He actually will come into our store, buy the hottest hot sauce we have, and he will drink it because it gives him the same high. It doesn’t hurt him, it doesn’t even phase him, but he still sweats, he still gets the heat hiccups…. If you’re eating something really really spicy and you want to stop the pain, you can actually take packets of sugar and put it on your tongue and let it sit for a minute. Wait until the heat comes back, swallow it and do it all over again.

We always hear about the new hottest pepper, so why does it keep changing?

Pepper growers cross breed peppers. The world’s hottest pepper is now a cross breed. It’s the Carolina Reaper. It’s the current world’s hottest according to The Guinness Book of World Records. But if you ask the Chili Pepper Institute, it’s still the Trinidad Scorpion. Everyone wants to have the world’s hottest so they can sell the rights to it and people have to buy the pepper from them. It’s a golden ticket for sure.

I’d think it would be a good marketing tactic to always have the world’s hottest pepper at any given time.

We do always have the hottest pepper, and that’s because we’ve been in the business for 20 years. We’re actually America’s most awarded hot sauce and salsa company. So people actually come to us with peppers and they ask us a lot of questions. The hot sauce community is very friendly and we will work with each other. Like, if you’re having a problem with your recipe, and there’s no secret behind it, then you’ll actually give us the recipe, or vice-versa. We help each other and work together to make hot sauces.

Is this a branch of nerddom?

Yes, this is a branch of nerddom, they call themselves chiliheads. They’re big nerds. There’s hot sauce bloggers, there’s pepper bloggers. They get together at hot sauce shows, they all know each other.

How can someone prepare if they’re going to do a marathon of spicy food?

A lot of people will do spicy food before they do a challenge… Not super spicy food, but something that has a good amount of heat to it. Something that has a nice glow. Or you can eat [raw] peppers. A whole bunch of jalapenos or habaneros just to get your tongue ready for that. There’s a cheating method, too. (Editor’s note: oral lidocaine spray) You can spray it on your tongue and in your mouth, and if you eat something spicy it won’t [feel] spicy

Why do you think people compete and do these big shows?

Because it’s fun. We have a challenge, it’s called the execution station. We line up some of our hottest hot sauces. You have to go through each hot sauce, and you can’t break the rules. No complaining. You have to have a whole spoonful, not a drop. If you can make it through all the rules and all the sauces, you get a koozie, and it’s good for 10% off at our store. But if you can do the challenge, which is doing Black Mamba Six at the end, you get a sticker. You’d be surprised how many people want that sticker. At hot sauce shows, almost every booth has a stupid hot hot sauce, and they have a sticker.

They don’t all participate. 100 people might watch, and two people might eat the hottest sauce. I think we like to watch.

We want to see them throw up! We want to see them cry, we want to see faces turn bright red and cry, and sweat pouring off them. We want to see those things.

I don’t want to throw up.

With our execution station, we always have a trash can at the end. Just for that random person. Because it happens every once in awhile. It doesn’t happen as often as you would think, but it does happen. For that person who didn’t have enough to eat, or had too much, or had too many beers.

Is Black Mamba Six the hottest hot sauce in the world?

It was voted the world’s hottest hot sauce two years in a row. We do not claim it’s the world’s hottest hot sauce, but others have.

What’s gonna happen if I try the Black Mamba Six?

So Black Mamba is made with an extract oil, which isn’t a fresh chili. Extract oil is kinda like… Let’s just call it food-grade pepper spray. It’s a very thick oil, and the only way to make it into liquid form is by heating it up. The great thing about Black Mamba is that a lot of people will try it and they’ll go “Oh that’s nothing.” And then they’ll go away. And then a couple minutes later they’ll come back in tears, with a red face. I hear a lot of “I hate you.”

Hurts So Good: A Fool’s Errand

The only tears shed at CaJohn’s Fiery Foods headquarters in Westerville, and their booth at the North Market are self-imposed. People love the burn of their spicy condiments. Of course, CaJohn’s makes more than just hot sauces, they make spice rubs, soup mixes, mustards, and other flavor-packed seasonings. And they do it all by hand, right here in the ranch dressing belt.

As the most awarded hot sauce company in the United States, CaJohn’s is an authority on making eyes water.
When we rolled in 10-deep and asked for his hottest, he brought the heat. Together we attempted “The Execution Station.” This is a taste test of the hottest hot sauces the company makes. The willing flavor chaser starts at one end, and samples each sauce, working their way to one of the hottest hot sauces in the world: Black Mamba Six.

The question was: How far could we make it?
When asked why he liked to make people cry, CaJohn answered with a laugh:
“Because they pay me good money to do it!”
Here are some choice exclamations that were overheard as my motley crew worked its way up the ladder of heat:

“You’re calling us volunteer victims?! Those words should never be put together.”
“I also brought Pepto Bismol and kleenex.”
“Is there a hot sauce here that’s so hot it’s not intended to be eaten?”
‘This is named after a demon?”
“When we start sweating, that’s when we’ll start taking pictures.”
(mouth breathing)
“Swish it around in your cheeks like wine!”
“*coughs* That’s not how you drink wine!”
“Do animals eat hot peppers?”
“Birds do.”
“Of course they do.”
“I feel burn-y.”
“I feel like you don’t need to brush your teeth after this, because it’ll just melt your mouth clean.”
“Ok, I took a little milk and chip break, I’m goin’ back in.”
“Ohhhh my belly is doin’ something it shouldn’t be doing.”
“It feels hurt-y.”
“Am I supposed to be a little disoriented?”
“Isn’t that why you agreed to this?”
*sniff*
“This weird little part of my mouth hurts, right here.”
“That’s your frenulum. Oh my god, that’s the first time that knowledge has ever been useful in my life.”
“You ok?”
“Yeah. You?”
“I… I don’t know.”
*cough*
“You’re getting shiny.”
“I say it’s like drinking whiskey. The first shot goes down and makes you shake. The more you drink, the easier it goes down.”
“You’ve never seen me drink whiskey.”
“This can’t give me a stroke, right?”
“My sinuses are steaming.”
“My ears are ringing.”
“What are your *sniff* focus groups like?” *sniff*
“This is mace for your mouth.”
“This is Kobe Bryant in a bottle.”
“Oh my god.”
“Are you gonna throw up?”
“Not right now. Maybe in your car.”
“I was talkin’ shit. I shouldn’t have been talkin shit.”
“This is hate in a bottle.”
“I don’t wanna tap out but… But…”
“This one might make you cry.”
“I got the spicy pepper endorphins!”
“Your eyes are all glazed over…”
“Does anyone else feel drunk?”

 

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Food & Drink

Riesling and Relaxation: Dublin’s new wine bar puts hospitality first

Mike Thomas

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While a spontaneous trip to the Napa Valley might be out of your budget, fans of wine in Central Ohio can experience a taste of the California lifestyle right in the heart of Dublin.

“I spent a lot of time on the west coast in my previous professional life, and it has just become the inspiration for the vibe in the space,” explains Coast Wine House owner Dustin Snow, who recently opened shop after pivoting out of a career in corporate retail. “We want to transport you to a different place, and the kind of optimism and pace of life in California is something that we wanted to bring here as much as we could.”

Since opening their doors in late 2019, Snow and his wife and business partner Molly had a clear vision for their business. Turned off by the decidedly highbrow atmosphere of the traditional wine bar, the two hoped to create a relaxing, unpretentious environment for their guests to enjoy.

Photos: Olivia K. James

“People are drinking wine a lot. They’re drinking it at home, they are drinking it [while] out to dinner, but it didn’t seem like they were really going to wine bars,” Snow says of the research that he and his team undertook before opening Coast. “Through that research, we developed a space that was just as much about the wine as it was about creating a really approachable, relaxed, comfortable environment.”

Even from the street, the homey, welcoming nature of Coast Wine House is immediately obvious. Converted from an old residential home near the heart of Old Dublin, the interior of the space charms with its rustic hardwood floors, dinner table-style seating, and inviting hearth.

“Our number one thing is that we want you to feel like you’re coming into our home and sharing a glass of wine with us, as opposed to bellying up to a crowded bar,” Snow says of the wine house’s laid-back vibes.

Not exactly a wine connoisseur? No problem. You won’t find the words “fine wines” used anywhere at Coast, nor will a sommelier try to drill you with hard science about tannins and terroir. Instead, Snow’s hospitality-first approach focuses on the stories surrounding individual winemakers, helping the drinker understand the unique values behind each product.

Above all, Coast Wine House explores the potential of wine to serve as the centerpiece to meaningful social interaction. To that end, Snow knew that the modern, resurgent Dublin would serve as the perfect home for his business.

“Dublin is doing everything right to get people to live here, to play here, and to work here. Bridge Park is evidence of that,” he says. “There are a lot of young families moving outside the outer belt, and [Dublin] is becoming a model for this sort of post-suburban community that I think a lot of other communities from around the country are going to look at Dublin and say, ‘OK, what are they doing and how can we replicate that?’”

To help promote exploration, the menu at Coast typically features 15–20 wine-by-the- glass options. Visitors can also sample 2 oz. pours, either just to taste, or for a “make your own flight” experience. For the casual wine drinker, there are plenty of familiar favorites (Cabernet, Chardonnay) with plenty more that might be less commonly known—a Kerner from Northern Italy, Aglianico from Southern Italy, or the Carignon from Santa Barbara, to name just a few.

With apologies to the TGIF set, you won’t find margaritas or cheap happy hour deals here. What Coast does offer is a lineup of classic cocktails that speak to the winemaking tradition, highlighting ingredients like sherry and vermouth—both of which are actually fortified wines. For the ardent hop heads, Coast keeps a selection of locally- produced brews on-hand as well.

A menu of light shareables joins the mix, currently featuring such classic, wine-friendly staples as cheese, olives, and hummus. Snow plans to grow this portion of the menu in time, but emphasizes that the fare on display will never amount to full-size entrees.

Coast’s in-house bottle shop has around 130 wines from around the world in stock. Whether you take one to go, or open it right there, Snow and his team will help you select the right bottle for any taste or occasion. Right now, a Piquepoul de Pinet is one of his favorites.

“Piquepoul is a dry white wine out of Southern France. It is bright, it’s refreshing, it’s got a good balance of citrus and minerality, and it’s really, really well-priced,” he explains. “It’s very approachable—one that we would call a ‘porch pounder’ around these parts.”

For a sample of Coast’s wine-centered social environment, check out one of its special events. Past events have included an exclusive 12 seat dinner highlighting four to five wines of a particular winemaker, or an engagement featuring $10 flights showcasing wine-producing regions from around the globe.

Looking for a place to enjoy a glass of wine without the pretensions of many wine bars and specialty shops? Just head for the Coast.

To learn more, visit Facebook, and be sure to check coastwinehouse.com.

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Food & Drink

Lent Lowdown: 5 of our favorite Friday fish spots

Mike Thomas

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Not having grown up in the Catholic tradition, I have little firsthand experience of Lent. To me, a consummate junk food junkie, this time of year has meant a chance to snag a discounted filet-o-fish from McD's and not much else.

Not content to wallow in ignorance through another season of Lent, I took to Google to learn the meaning behind this religious observance. While I'm still a few credits shy of a degree in theology, good old Wikipedia managed to shed some light on the history and tradition behind this time of prayer, penance, and self-denial.

Even if some basic research yields a wealth of knowledge on the subject, the widely known facts remain essential to the experience of Lent. If you're observing tradition, you're probably giving something up for 40 days. You might be fasting, or spending more time in prayer. But for all the faithful, a big unifying factor is the "no meat on Friday" rule that typically leads to an uptick in fish consumption.

Looking for the best places to score the goods on these meatless Fridays? 614NOW has you covered. Refer to this list of favorite local establishments that are ready to serve your Lenten needs.

Old Bag of Nails | Multiple Locations

https://www.instagram.com/p/BkbCLjYn9kF/

This popular central Ohio chain stocks plenty of seafood favorites year round, but Lent is truly their time to shine. Dinners, platters, or po' boys - blackened, Cajun, or fried. This menu is overflowing with the sea's bounty, but the star of the show is the British Style Fish & Chips ($13.99).

Queen's Table | Find the truck

The official meal of Comfest—The Fish Boat—is actually available year-round, but it's not the easiest to come by. Queen's Table operates as a food truck throughout the year, so be on the lookout for the Columbus seafood classic next time you need a lent-friendly lunch. (Sites like street food finder are a big help in tracking down your favorite mobile eats.)

Mitchell's Fish Market | 1245 Olentangy River Rd, Columbus

https://www.instagram.com/p/BtoboFwAQUF/

Need I say more? For a high-end Friday night out, you really can't go wrong with this campus-adjacent seafood joint from Columbus' culinary king.

City BBQ | Multiple Locations

Each year on honor of Lent, Columbus' BBQ favorite adds fish to their normally red-meat centered menu. Now through April 4, dishes featuring southern-fried catfish and Atlantic smoked salmon join the party. City BBQ's catfish is some of the best around, and is definitely worth seeking out at least once during this limited annual appearance.

Rooster's | Multiple Locations

https://www.instagram.com/p/BurXnaJgR_e/

We all know it's a fun casual joint, but did you know they have fish on the menu? Easily lost in the shuffle between dumpster fries and the biggest wings around, Rooster's generously-sized battered fish sandwich comes in at a very wallet friendly $7.59. And after all, cheese-covered tots are Lent friendly, aren't they?

Of course, fish fries will be going down across numerous churches throughout the season. This handy list from WBNS will help you find one close to you.

What are your go-to places to eat during Lent? Let us know in the comments.

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Food & Drink

2 Columbus chefs in the running for top culinary award

614now Staff

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For the first time in eight years, Columbus chefs will vie for coveted honors from the James Beard Foundation according to Columbus Monthly.

Celebrating its 30th year in 2020, the James Beard Award is considered one of the culinary field's highest honors. Ray Rays Hog Pit owner James Anderson has been named as a semifinalist for the honor of "Best Chef: Great Lakes," while Spencer Budros, co-owner of Pistacia Vera, was nominated for Outstanding Baker.

The last time Columbus chefs were considered for an award from the foundation was 2012, when chefs Richard Blondin and Kent Rigsby were named semifinalists.

Finalists for the awards will be announced on March 25.

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