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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?

***

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

10 unique vendors announced for Hilliard’s community market

614now Staff

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They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but that's not the case with one local city. A brand new community market is coming soon to Old Hilliard!

Center Street Market, a new community market, set to open next month with the intention to support local food and retail vendors, according to its Facebook

So far, 10 vendors have been announced: Al’s Delicious Popcorn, Bakes by Lo, the Cheesecake Girl, Coffee Connections of Hilliard, Dumplings of Fury, Legacy Station (from the owners of Legacy Smokehouse), Meatball Mafia, Pitabilities, Rime Time Curiously Crafted Pops, and Serendipity.

Scroll down to see photos and learn more about these vendors.

For more information on the Center Street Market anchor, Crooked Can Brewing Company, click here.

Al’s Delicious Popcorn

Al's Delicious Popcorn offers 60+ flavors of gourmet popcorn in a variety of colors and sizes.

Bakes by Lo

Serving up specially handmade decorated cookies to satisfy your sweet tooth.

The Cheesecake Girl

Creative made-from-scratch cheesecakes made locally and deliciously.

Coffee Connections of Hilliard

Fresh locally roasted coffee and espresso, teas, chai, bagels, donuts, muffins, scones, cookies, full catering services and more.

Dumplings of Fury

Tender, succulent, traditional dim sum.

Legacy Station (from the owners of Legacy Smokehouse)

Experience the Tradition of Central Texas Barbecue at Legacy Smokehouse. Bringing a little taste of Central Texas to Central Ohio.

Meatball Mafia

Two-time Food Truck Fest winner, Meatball Mafia offers hot, juicy meatballs smothered in cheese and sauce.

Pitabilities

Mediterranean and American flavors at Pitabilities, with fresh ingredients made-to-order just the way you like it.

Rime Time Curiously Crafted Pops

Creative popsicles Seasonal produce, specialty ingredients, and creative pops. Made with science, delivered on wheels, eaten with love.

Serendipity

Serendipity; The art of happy discoveries will offer vintage, repurposed, and handcrafted home decor, gifts and furniture.

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Food & Drink

Insanely creative ice cream shop now treating Short North

614now Staff

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A Mexican-style ice creamery is now open in the Short North.

Dulce Vida Ice Cream Factory opened its doors for the first time Thursday at 1127 N High St. 

The unique, family-owned ice cream shop specializes in unique, fruit-forward treats like the "Crazy Pineapple," berry paletas, and Mangonada. Dulce Vida also serves hot foods like Mexican Street Corn, tamales, walking tacos, and tortas.

Dulce Vida also has locations at 4201 W Broad St. and 6140 Cleveland Ave. See way more offerings on Instagram.

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Food & Drink

Hilliard’s 1st brewery is finally tapped

614now Staff

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Hilliard's first brewery is officially open! Hop heads can now gather at Crooked Can, an Orlando-based brewery located at 5354 Center St.

The 4,000-square-foot taproom currently has a handful of brews available, with plans to roll out a total of 16 in the future.

When the weather improves, guests can enjoy their High Stepper American IPAs and McSwagger’s Own Amber Ales on Crooked Can's 7,000-square-foot patio.

The brewery anchors Hilliard's Center Street Market, expected to open in March.

Through final construction projects, Crooked Can will be open 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu.; 4-11 p.m. Fri.; 2-11 p.m. Sat. and 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun.

For more information, visit crookedcanohio.com.

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