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Going Down in Flames: Can you conquer CaJohn’s “Execution Station” challenge?

Jeni Ruisch

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In time for the Fiery Foods Fest this weekend, we are reintroducing the CaJohn’s “Execution Station” challenge that (614) staffers so bravely faced back in 2017. Can you take the heat?

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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 dissuaded 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.

CaJohns Hot Sauce_Laatsch-9
CaJohns Hot Sauce_Laatsch-30
CaJohns Hot Sauce_Laatsch-21
CaJohns Hot Sauce_Laatsch-27
CaJohns Hot Sauce_Laatsch-16

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.

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.

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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 jalapeños 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.

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?

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 chasers start at one end, and sample 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?”

By Jennifer Ruisch / (614) September, 2017

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Food & Drink

You’ll like Buckeye Donut’s newest treat a la lot

614now

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Columbus’ favorite donut shop will be rolling out [literally] a brand new treat just in time for the annual Columbus Food Truck Festival.

We think you’ll like it a la lot.

Ice cream and donuts will converge in perfect harmony for Buckeye Donuts Apple Fritter A La Mode! That’s right, a cool scoop of vanilla ice cream will rest on top of the fan favorite sweet and fruity fried pastry, all drizzled in sticky caramel. You might need a napkin (or sleeve) for this one.

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This special goodie will be available Friday and Saturday from 11:00 AM- 11:00 PM only at the Columbus Food Truck Festival on the Scioto Mile.

Click here for our advise about how to optimize your experience at the foodie fest.

BEHOLD! The newest member of the Buckeye Donuts Family: Apple Fritter A La Mode! 🍩🍦Get your hands on this bad boy…

Posted by Buckeye Donuts on Thursday, August 15, 2019
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Food & Drink

Rossi or Ratssi? Rodents force closure at Short North restaurant

614now

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Someone is getting assigned to some “Charlie Work” after The Rossi Bar and Kitchen was served a red sticker by the Columbus Public Health Department.

The Short North restaurants was issued an emergency order yesterday because of “rodent activity in the basement prep area.” Reportedly, inspectors discovered dead rats in traps and excessive rat feces in the bowels of the 895 N. High St. building.

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Rossi will remain closed until the facility is cleaned, holes in the basement are repaired, and the rats are under control, according to a post from Tom Sussi, a local licensed and insured Private Investigator.

Sussi added that sources informed him that employees are not being paid on time.

Rats!The rodents forced a popular Short North restaurant to shut its doors.The Columbus Public Health Department…

Posted by Tom Sussi on Thursday, August 15, 2019

In an Instagram post, Rossi announced it’d be closed “for the next few days due to emergency repair.”

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Food & Drink

Fried, Smothered, & Loaded: Vegetarian Junk Food

Mitch Hooper

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Whenever the words “vegetarian” or “vegan” are thrown around, people’s defense walls go up as they instantly imagine bland salads or unseasoned tofu. Since both diets have become wildly popular trends in the world of eating, they are often associated with exclusive, healthy, clean, natural, raw, whatever…eating.

As a vegetarian, I’m here to tell you that’s bullshit. Sure, we vegetarians eat our share of salads, and occasionally tofu is substituted for chicken on our health-conscious dishes, but that’s not the full picture of our plates. Whether it’s loading up on carb-heavy sides, covering things in cheese (or vegan “cheese”), or living off the appetizer menu; living a plant-based diet can be just as much fun and games as any other fare – and here are a few dishes from around Columbus to prove it.

AM Philly

Angry Baker Olde Towne East | 891 Oak St.

Angry Baker has found a way to cover things in cheese and still please the vegans. The AM Philly comes loaded with sauteed mushrooms, onions, and peppers with tofu scramble atop a fresh and soft hoagie bun. To keep it in true “cheese/steak” form, they top the entire masterpiece with vegan cheddar cheese and a little vegan mayo. The sandwich is every bit as flavorful as a regular Philly, plus it’s just as messy to eat. I recommend a few squirts of Sriracha on it, but then again, I recommend that on everything

Buffalo Mac

Woodhouse Vegan Pop-up | 1038 N High St.

Keeping it cheesy, but plant-based, comes from the vegan pop-up at Oddfellows with the Buffalo Mac. The entree is relatively simple, but that just means more chances to really focus on flavor. The Beyond Meat “chicken” strips are marinated in buffalo sauce to really pack a punch and then is topped with more buffalo sauce and dairy-free ranch dressing with a bed of dairy-free mac and “cheese” to dig into. It’s finished off with some raw red onion and scallions to fully recreate that buffalo-style experience. Keep an eye out for Woodhouse’s first brick-and-mortar location setting up shop in the Italian Village.

Fried Cauliflower 

Hadley’s Bar + Kitchen | 260 S Fourth St.

Cauliflower is the new favorite vegetable amongst dieters for being low-carb. It’s inviting to a variety of flavors, and it can be used in many creative ways. At Hadley’s, the fried cauliflower resembles the bar-style boneless wings you might be craving since ditching meat. It’s the little things you miss as a plant-eater (like dipping sauces). So finding a place that offers three different sauce options—Dr. Pepper barbeque, house hot, and General Tso’s—is quite a gratifying moment. Dunk these addicting suckers into Hadley’s house-made ranch or bleu cheese and you’ll be fighting your carnivorous friends off as they ask to try a bite.

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Parma, Italy

Melt | 4206 Worth Ave. & 840 N High St.

Usually Melt’s sheer amount of dairy usage is enough to scare off any vegan within a 10-mile radius, but that all changed once Melt added an entire menu dedicated to vegan options. There are tons of options to choose from, but the Parma, Italy might take the caloric crown when it comes to plant-based indulgence. The sandwich features vegan chicken (or fried tofu) smothered in basil marinara with roasted garlic and vegan mozzarella cheese all in between two crusty pieces of garlic toast. It might not hurt to park a little further away from Melt just to burn a few extra calories on the way to and from devouring way too much food. 

The Joe Vegan Sloppy Sandwich

Lineage Brewing | 2971 N High St.

“Have some more sloppy joes! I made ‘em extra sloppy for you!” If that scene from Billy Madison still haunts you any time you go to break out some Manwich from the cupboard, put that canned sauce down and go to Lineage. Immediately order a beer to wash away the memory of the lunch lady, and then snag the Joe Vegan sloppy sandwich off the menu. It’s a hearty combination of lentils and kidney beans in the iconic sloppy joe sauce, and it’s topped with raw onion and your choice of vegan cheese sauce or cheddar cheese. Throw in a side of potato chips and it’s like being a teenager all over again except this time you didn’t have to steal your dad’s beer.

Vegan Barbeque Jackfruit

Alchemy | 625 Parsons Ave. 

& 1439 Grandview Ave. 

Jackfruit is a delicate fruit that tastes almost nothing like fruit. It’s a great vessel for sauces and flavorings, but if it’s not cooked properly, it can turn into a mushy mess. Thankfully, Alchemy has perfected this process with their vegan take on a classic barbeque pulled pork sandwich. The jackfruit is tender, but stays in form on the roll. For added texture and taste, the sandwich is served on a crunchy ciabatta roll with carrot cabbage slaw in an herbed cashew cream.

Brussel Sprouts

Barrel On High | 1120 N High St.

Don’t turn your nose up on Brussel sprouts, these green brain-looking vegetables are great for absorbing flavor and they have that “meaty” taste. At Barrel on High, these Brussels are oven-roasted and tossed into a Thai chili sauce making them potentially your new favorite thing. While the Thai chili brussel sprouts are worth tripling up on and calling it a dinner, might I point you in the direction of the Impossible Burger as well. The Impossible Burger has grown to fame because it resembles every aspect of meat while remaining plant-based, and Barrel’s straight-up approach of making an American classic go vegan will have you double checking the menu to make sure it’s not actually beef.

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