Jacob Cutino of Homeboy's Hot Sauce on How He Got Started and Why Chefs Love His Product
Jacob Cutino's hot sauce is taking the Phoenix food scene by storm.
If you've been paying attention to the shelves at your favorite local market, or to the menu at some of the Valley's top restaurants, then you're probably already aware of Homeboy's Hot Sauce.
The little black and white bottles of red and gold sauce have been popping up at places including FnB, Citizen Public House, La Grande Orange, and Windsor over the past few months. And chefs such as Chris Bianco of Pizzeria Bianco and Cullen Campbell of Crudo can't seem to stop showing love for the stuff on social media.
But where did this much buzzed-about hot sauce come from?
The short answer is Jacob Cutino.
This chef turned hot sauce entrepreneur is taking the local food scene by storm with Homeboy's Hot Sauce, a brand he launched in March of this year. In less than four months, he's gotten his sauce onto the shelves of more than a dozen local retail outlets, winning over diners and chefs with well-balanced flavors and enjoyable levels of heat.
Currently, he sells two flavors of hot sauce — the milder jalapeño and a deceivingly friendly looking, gold-hued habanero version. Both are made with ingredients sourced from a local farmer and are made pretty much entirely by hand. In the next few weeks, Cutino will add a honey hot sauce to the lineup, also made with locally sourced honey
How did you get started?
I used to be in the restaurant industry here for, like, the last few years. I worked with Fox Restaurant Concepts for a while and at Bootleggers. I left restaurants in November 2014. It took me about four months to get my FDA approval and everything, and then we launched in March.
We started at just Uptown Farmers Market, and I did have a connection with people in the industry, but I didn't want to start with that. I just wanted to let it grow organically. It was just, like, Chris Bianco came by and he liked it. Then Luci's picked it up and then LGO picked it up, and it was just one thing after another. Then all the sudden Phoenix Magazine comes over and interviews me and Charleen [Badman] has got it over at FnB. It was just like, “Okay, cool.”
Wow, that's fast.
Yeah, I'm in my 13th week right now.
So, why hot sauce?
I love to cook — I'm always cooking. But my stepfather is from the islands. He's from Trinidad, so he used to always make this pepper sauce. It was so hot that you could only put a couple drops. Being away from home, I would miss it and I would always ask him how to make it. In true island fashion [he'd say], “Oh, man, you know, just some of this and some of that. You have to taste it.” You know. But it never tasted the same. So, I worked on it and worked on it and finally I got it like his, in a raw state.
I would take it to work to see what people thought about it. People really liked the heat. It would be in the office and I'd come back and it'd be gone. It was like, “Okay, people like it.” So my wife encouraged me. Like, two years ago she was, like, “Okay, you gotta sell this.” I was, like, eh, hot sauce. It's a saturated market. But you know, I started thinking about it and doing my due diligence and it was, like, it had grown 250 percent between 2010 and 2014.
The hot sauce market?
Yeah. The hot sauce market. Which you wouldn't think. One thing I noticed when I was giving it to people is they either were down for hot or they weren't down at all. So when I started getting into, you know, how do I turn this into a product that could eventually scale into grocery stores and so on and so forth, it had to be a shelf-stable product. I had to add a thermal process to it. So no longer is it a raw product that I've perfected. Now I've got to cook it and try to get the same kind of flavor.
Well, it turned out that cooking it kind of gave it this — well, it took the heat back a little bit, and it gave me the opportunity to let the flavor develop more. So when you got it at first, you get the flavor of the habanero and then the heat kind of comes up at the end. So that's why we tell people to focus on the flavor and enjoy the heat.
We use fresh jalapeños. We make our own mash. Most people, they buy a mash pre-made or precooked down and we do everything by hand. So we get all our stuff from McClendon's [Select], pull the stems, and then blend them. Blend all the ingredients and then we cook it. So it's a little bit more labor-intensive.
So aside from the fact that they taste good, what makes these hot sauces so appealing to chefs?
I think that the basis of having onion and carrot and the acid, it makes it more of like a base. It's almost like a mirepoix minus the celery. So most dishes start with either carrot, onion, something like that. And I think that you can really moderate the flavor. It adds but it doesn't take over.
You know, it's funny I talk to Jason at Noble Bread and he's always like, “I'm not supposed to be the center of the plate, just a part of the plate.” And I kind of feel the same way with this. It's like, I don't want to take over every dish – I mean, because, no one would want to cook with it if everything was going to taste like it. But watching chefs cook with it is really cool. Like Charleen did a vinaigrette with it at FnB.
A year ago, if someone had told you you'd be doing this whole hot sauce thing…?
I would have said, you're crazy. You're crazy. And I gotta go to pre-shift now. [laughs]
You can find Homeboy's Hot Sauces at restaurants including Crudo, Yard Bird + Larder, Lucy's Health Marketplace, Pane Bianco, Citizen Public House, Phoenix Ale Brewery, La Grande Orange, FnB/Bodega, The Gladly, Pig & Pickles, Top of the Rock, and at several local farmers markets.
For more information or to purchase Homeboy's Hot Sauces online, visit the Homeboy's Hot Sauces website.
Homeboy's Hot Sauce comes in two flavors right now.
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