Is it hipster salad dressing? No. Maybe it's cool and refreshing? Not that either. So what is Uncle Iceberg's? It's comparable to the balsamic vinegar in a caprese salad--that extra "oomph" that makes mozzarella and tomato sing. The slogan says it all: "The most miraculous hawt sauce ever known for curing bland food, bringing flavor and originality to your table." It's not just hot sauces, either, but a range of flavors that anyone can appreciate inside of medicinal-looking tonic bottles.
Isaac Buchanan was a foodie at a young age: when you're a mix of African-American, Hispanic and American-Indian, being exposed to diverse cuisine is pretty inevitable. "I've always enjoyed spicy food," Buchanan says. "The spicier, the better."
Kitchen memories were the aromas of both tamales and soul food, while outings included attending powwows.
He grew up in the Northern California cities of Palo Alto and San Jose. A fondness for cooking developed early on, and Isaac was known as "the cake-decorating guy" among friends and family. After getting a degree at San Jose State University, Buchanan decided to attend the culinary program at San Francisco's Le Cordon Bleu, finishing in 2002. From there (on the advice of a classmate), Buchanan moved to San Diego, and his résumé there includes stints as executive sous chef at the Del Mar Race Track and kitchen manager at the Del Mar Marriott.
Things changed in 2004, when he steered away from food service and began a career in business and finance. However, his love for making hot sauce never strayed. After years of refining his technique and experimenting with flavors on his co-workers ("Tootsie roll habanero was a miss," he says with a laugh), his dream became official last August, when Buchanan and his wife began the Uncle Iceberg brand.
He still has a day job (with an Irvine computer-product distributor--and he's also a proud new papa), "Uncle Iceberg" works on his product. Buchanan is involved in each step of the production process, from examining every pepper that goes in to removing stems from a hundred bunches of parsley for the chimichurri sauce, "If it doesn't look good, it isn't going in there," he says. The magic happens in the kitchen of Aliso Viejo's Porky's Pizza, the owner of which is a friend.
The sauce line includes a steak marinade, barbecue, My Little Buttercup, Poppin' Pineapple, Angry A and his best-seller, chimichurri. Habaneros are Buchanan's pepper of choice and are at the heart of all his sauces because "of their flexibility. They can add tremendous flavor to any dish." He recommends pairing Poppin' Pineapple with a diverse selection of foods: Hawaiian pizza, fish tacos, breakfast burritos, even Eggs Benedicts. Chimichurri brings out the flavor in grilled fish and meats, yet the most surprising combination to date has to be that of his in-laws: "topping their roasted-red-pepper-and-goat-cheese pizza!"
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Angry A has 50 percent more peppers than Poppin' Pineapple, yet Buchanan considers both his favorite, combining the two into what he likes to call Daddy Sauce. His newest creation, salted habanero honey, is designed to liven up fried chicken, pastries and cheese plates. I prefer My Little Buttercup, with its milder Mandarin-orange taste.
Now, the origins of the nickname: It started with some friends from the sandlot, who asked if they could shorten Isaac: "Can I call you Ice?" Then it evolved to Ice B and Iceberg. However, his nephew gets credit for coining the phrase Uncle Iceberg.
Find your nearest Uncle Iceberg's product at www.uncleicebergs.com.