A True Hot Sauce Story
I HAD NO CLUE WHAT TO DO NEXT WITH MY LIFE...
I’d lived all over the world and done every crummy job under the sun.
But at 35 I had come full circle.
Back to Brighton. Teaching English. Bloody miserable.
I was forced to admit that despite all my adventuring I hadn’t actually achieved much.
It wasn’t toaster in the bathtub time.
But something had to change. I needed a purpose.
THREE SUMMERS PREVIOUSLY I was slinging drinks at a little dive bar near the beach in Barcelona.
The regulars were local oddballs, daytime drinkers, young expats, and a few of my mates.
Booze was cheap and the tunes were good.
On each table stood a bottle of Tabasco.
WHY ALWAYS TABASCO?
I NEVER got it. America had a million hot sauces.
Why did Europe still only have Tabasco??
I spent that summer dreaming up a new hot sauce to end the vinegary tyranny.
I broadcasted my plan to anyone who'd listen.
The barflies cheered me on, my friends nodded in approval - I was all fired up.
But then I met a girl and forgot all about it.
SAVED BY THE SPICE
THREE YEARS ON, now at Brighton Rock bottom, the idea crept back out of my subconscious.
Its time had come, and I had nothing to lose.
So I packed my bags and went to Mexico.
SATURATION OF THE SENSES
FROM DAY one I knew this was the place for me.
I went everywhere, gorging on street food, getting lost in markets, and revelling in seedy cantinas.
Random tip-offs took me on wild goose chases.
All the time I was relentlessly sampling as many sauces as I could. I was in heaven.
The locals schooled me on chillies: which were the hottest, which were the tastiest, who had them...
SO MANY SLUGS of sauce were dripped and licked off the back of my hand a red burn branded my skin.
I wore that scar with pride.
A PLAN IS FORMED
AFTER A MONTH soaking it all up I now had a plan.
I wanted to create a sauce with punch & personality that could be slapped on anything, and came in printed glass like Mexican beer bottles.
The chilli packing most heat and flavour is the habanero, so I headed to its homeland - Yucatan - to try and get this Tabasco-slaying sauce made.
On my travels I kept hearing about an old nun who made sauces somewhere in the middle of nowhere.
I managed to track her down and she welcomed me with open arms.
A NUN ON A RUN
THE OLD GIRL told me all about her project helping the Mayan Mexicans local to that part of the country.
These people had lost touch with their ancient farming heritage and fallen prey to poverty, booze and drugs.
She provided them with the tools to start farming their ancestral lands again.
Levi. Habanero farmer & Man Utd fan.
Righteous from the roots up.
THE NUN BOUGHT DIRECT from the farmers and made traditional sauces at her little factory nearby.
The profits went into setting up the micro-farms, helping more Mayan Mexicans reclaim their heritage, independence and self-respect.
I couldn’t help but be inspired by what the nun was doing, especially as I was trying to find a sense of purpose in my life too.
THIS IS THE ONE
SHE PUT ME in touch with a Cuban guy who she said could help me create my recipe.
He was a mysterious character who didn’t say much.
I later found out that, before escaping Cuba in a dinghy, he was Fidel Castro's personal rum maker.
Anyway, he made me 3 samples - all of which were top-notch - but one was definitely numero uno.
NOW THIS WAS A REAL FUCKIN HOT SAUCE.
THE CUBAN, myself, and the nun's three spice maidens brewed up the sauce at her little factory.
We filled 500 bottles (screen-printed with a big fat #1 on the front) and I shipped them back to London.
The very first bottle of #1 HOT.
SELLS LIKE PROVERBIAL HOT SAUCES
EVERYONE loved #1 and it sold out FAST.
So I headed back to Mexico to make some more.
We added a chipotle sauce I dubbed #1 SMOKY.
It all sold out.
I was soon back in Mexico again.
We created a milder sauce called #1 MELLOW.
THE THREE AMIGOS WERE A HOT SUCCESS.
STILL NO DINERO
DESPITE SALES, moving me and the sauce between Mexico and UK ate up the slim profits I was making.
I made an uncharacteristically pragmatic decision and gambled on relocating production to Spain.
I knew a fiery Californian called Carlos who made great hot sauces in Granada.
He was an expert in karate and had a short fuse.
I went crowdfunding and we started production.
It worked. Kind of. But after three runs I canned it.
Recreating my sauces away from Mexican soil was impossible. Even for Carlos.
Broke, broken, I went off to Dubai to earn some cash.
Born in Mexico Made in Spain (Granada).
4 YEARS OLDER. NO WISER.
I MADE a few quid, went walkabout, returned to Spain, and worked as a freelance copywriter.
Nowadays every man and his dog made hot sauce.
It irked me. Especially as none were as good as mine.
THE URGE became too hard to resist.
FUCK IT!! I booked a flight to Mexico City.
BACK TO THE SOURCE
I found an outfit in Mexico City that was the real deal.
I gave them a bottle of the original Mexican #1 HOT.
They not only recreated it - they made it BETTER.
THIS WAS THE SAUCE I ALWAYS WANTED TO MAKE.
I bought 3000 5-oz woozy bottles.
Now all I had to do was get them printed.
How hard could that be?
I went to Algarín, the printing district of Mexico City.
I found two brothers who agreed do it in a week.
Seven days later I went down there to find them swigging tequila and giving me the mañana line.
The (badly) printed bottles finally arrived at the sauce factory 3 weeks late in a convoy of Ubers.
Some looked so fucked-up I couldn’t help but laugh.
Bottles printed badly by pissed-up Mexicans just added to Number One Sauce folklore.
I was stuck with them now anyway.
The guys at the sauce factory got the whole job done in just a few hours. Legends.
I shipped it all back to the UK.
I WAS NOW OFFICIALLY BACK IN THE SAUCE GAME!
ONE YEAR LATER...
#1 HOT has been slapped all around the UK.
It looks like I’ll need to make some more soon.
Luckily, Mexico City is now my home ;)
Back when I was putting the production together, I was staying in La Roma, a hip area of Mexico City.
One night I was out at a bar with some new mates. We were hitting the mezcal hard.
Through the crowd I spotted a local beauty and somehow slurred my way to getting her phone number. We met for coffee next day and hit it off.
Now we live together and have just welcomed our baby boy!
HOW'S THAT FOR A BIT OF SAUCINESS?
Thanks to César Campos for product shots.
Words and pics by Arlo Tickner (founder).