7 Questions for the Founder of the Sriracha Festival
Southern Californian rooster sauce lovers, rejoice! You have not one, but two Sriracha Festivals in your region this fall.
It all started last October when L.A. played host to the first-ever festival dedicated to the beloved hot sauce. The event was a smash, with the L.A. Times reporting that around 800 people packed the place “elbow to elbow” until “it was hard to move around.” Costumes weren’t uncommon.
The success inspired organizers Randy Clemens and Josh Lurie of Food GPS to not only hold a second event this year, but to expand to San Diego. We got hold of Clemens to discuss the festivals, his popular Sriracha cookbooks and how a condiment can command a cult following.
1. What does one look for in a Sriracha Festival?
Our goal was to go over the top. We didn’t want anyone to walk away thinking, “Gosh, I could’ve used a little more Sriracha.” We wanted to get some of the area’s top chefs making Sriracha-themed dishes—including desserts—plus cocktails, local craft beer, a DJ, a few little surprises and a good chunk of change going to a deserving nonprofit—Mama’s Kitchen for San Diego, Food Forward for L.A. What more could you want?
2. How big do you think this can get? LA Weekly suggested Sriracha could become “the new Grateful Dead” (though I prefer to think of it more as Homer Simpson following around the Ribwich).
Sriracha Festivals are so popular because we’re still discovering what Sriracha can do in the kitchen. It’s so much more than a heavenly condiment; it also makes a great ingredient to cook with, and I love that our chefs are proving that, one delicious bite at a time. I love that there are other people as crazy about Sriracha as I am, and the festivals give us a chance to finally hang out, all while enjoying our favorite hot sauce together. We definitely have some more festival stops in mind for next year, though it’s still a bit early to say where.
3. Why are people so obsessed with Sriracha? What makes it better than say… oh, I don’t know… A.1. sauce?
Ha! Have you tasted it? I think Sriracha gets people obsessed because it strikes a really great balance of heat and flavor that works well with just about any cuisine. Plus it hits just about every taste bud: salt, heat, acidity from the vinegar, a little sweetness from the sugar, pungency from the garlic...it’s the perfect combination.
4. You quite literally wrote the book on Sriracha, having penned the popular The Sriracha Cookbook. How did you begin your relationship with Sriracha?
Sriracha grabbed my attention about 16 years ago while I was a freshman in high school. A good friend of mine from marching band is Vietnamese and I fell in love with his mom’s cooking, as I’d never had Vietnamese food. [They used Sriracha] and I just loved how versatile it was, and how it somehow seemed to make everything taste better. Then, when I started cooking with it, I was amazed at how great it worked as an ingredient and how well it blended with other flavors.
The Sriracha Cookbook has done really well, and the sales seem to especially pick up around the holidays. It makes a great gift since it seems everyone knows someone who loves Sriracha. Even 3.5 years after it came out, it’s selling strong on Amazon, and it’s allowed me to pen a plant-based follow-up called The Veggie-Lover’s Sriracha Cookbook. Yes, the recipes are vegan, but it actually focuses on vegetables rather than some over-processed soy nugget meat analogue garbage.
5. OK, but screw fancy recipes; let’s get down and dirty. As an expert, what’s your favorite thing to just dump raw Sriracha sauce all over?
Three-way tie: avocado, eggs and/or potatoes.
6. What about the average Joe with a bottle in his fridge: What’s the most overlooked opportunity he’s been missing to use Sriracha to spice up his life?
Popcorn. Melt a little butter or olive oil or coconut oil, mix in a clove or two (or 10) of minced garlic, Sriracha, salt, parsley and a squeeze of lime juice. Toss with the popcorn and sprinkle with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
7. Lastly, will the festival finally teach people how to properly spell and pronounce Sriracha?
I hear all kinds of pronunciations, but I always go back to the adage: “It doesn’t matter if you’re right; it matters if you’re understood.”