Somewhere in Flavortown, Guy Fieri was sobbing because he missed out on the 4th annual California Hot Sauce Expo at the Grove of Anaheim last Saturday. I can only imagine that his spice senses were tingling from his frosted tips to his flame shirt as he tumbled across the floor of his home yearning to experience the sensations of pain and pleasure plastering the palates of those crazy enough to attend. The crowd faced perils of amateur wrestling, the world’s hottest burrito challenge, heavy metal blaring from speakers, and not to mention the Anaheim heat.
There were enough scoville units to bake the sun. Those of us at the scene witnessed unimaginable anguish unleashed by the Carolina Reaper pepper and the ghost chili (two of the world’s hottest peppers). The tears of joy and spice from the winning contestants were just enough to quench the heat.
Hot sauce makers from across the United States operated some three dozen booths lined shoulder to shoulder in the parking lot of Angels Stadium. Some notable vendors were OC locals: Ghost Scream from San Clemente, Chone from Laguna Niguel; and Infinity from Fullerton, but we’ll get to those momentarily.
At the center of the event was a full sized wrestling ring, sponsored by the South Gate based Alternative Wrestling Show (AWS). Shortly before noon, an announcement blared over the loudspeakers, demanding that everyone turn their attention to the ring in the middle of the parking lot. AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells” slowly began building as the 180 lb Dirty Dom began strutting toward the stage wearing nothing but purple spandex pants with two black handprints emblazoned onto his ass. Dom seductively licked the rope of the ring as he glided into the ring and prepared for battle. The ground began to shake as Dom’s opponent, the 340 lb Irish Menace from Garden Grove Mikey O’Shea thundered his way toward the ring. O’Shea mounted the ropes ringside, stripped to his green wrestling onesie and released a primal scream.
After the opening bell, the two contestants fists collided like ancient titans as they fought to dominate each other. Dom’s muscular arms were no match for O’Shea’s sheer mass – the green-suited giant bludgeoned Dom to the floor.
O’Shea quickly got off to a hot start, pinning Dom (for two seconds) three times in the opening action. A three second pin would’ve meant a loss for Dom, so he climbed the ropes and took his purple pants on an aerial assault of O’Shea. From off the ropes, Dom’s flying elbows slowly beat O’Shea down and turned the match in his favor. Dom pinned O’Shea twice, but the Irish Menace narrowly escaped.
O’Shea was getting exhausted in the center of the ring. Dom had victory well within his grasp, and began taunting O’Shea by slapping his ass and encouraging the crowd to join. Mothers and children recoiled in terror as the crowd joined Dom’s vulgar display. O’Shea became enraged, shouted to the heavens, and mounted one last onslaught on Dom. The titans clashed again. Dom took O’Shea back and nearly had a win, but O’Shea grabbed his lewd opponent and threw him into a full cyclone reverse slam which knocked Dom unconscious. The referee sounded three taps, and the match was over with O’Shea as the victor.
AWS sponsored at least five matches on Saturday, each more gruesome than the last. The final matches were high-flying luchador extravaganzas. The brutality and bravery of the luchadores is too much recount now.
As fascinating as the wrestlers were, the event couldn’t have happened without local OC hot sauce brewers. Chone of Laguna Niguel and Infinity of Fullerton came representing.
Infinity Sauce, named Best Hot Sauce of 2016 by the Weekly – and has won best hot sauce at the OC Fair every summer from 2013 to 2017 – was a favorite at the expo. In 2016, Infinity’s Ghost Monkey sauce won Best Condiment at the OC Fair, pretty surprising that the judges could handle the citrus and ghost pepper blend. The Weekly’s long time food writer Anne Marie Panoringan profiled Infinity in 2017 to get to the heart of the heat with owner John Kessler.
Kessler’s hot sauce fiend club (yes, that’s a Misfits reference, and no Glenn Danzig doesn’t know that the logo is being used) has long supported Infinity at its home at the SantAna 4th Street Market. Kessler loves that his sauce is are made fresh, and wants aspiring chefs to, “Be fearless. Don’t be afraid to f**k it up!”
One of the newcomers on the scene is also one of the oldest sauces. Chone sauce (pronounced Ch-own) was created by Wendy and Paul Bridgeman at their home in Laguna Niguel 22-years-ago with no intention of selling their sauce. It wasn’t until a friend implored Wendy to sell her sauce that the Bridgemens took the business seriously. Chone is made with peppers grown from the Bridgeman’s garden and the freshness is apparent.
Vendors at the Hot Sauce Expo offered pea-size samples of their fiery batches on chips, luckily the small doses only allowed a little heat to pass through. The few who received the full brunt of heat volunteered to compete with one another on-stage in the spiciest spectacle ever witnessed – the Slaytanic Burrito Challenge.
One contestant got off to a quick start, but his esophagus began to swell from High River Sauce smothered burrito. In the end, steady wins the race, and David from Texas won the competition.
In the wing competition, Freddy (who wants to be called Slayer Freddy cuz he’s extra metal) won the competition for the second year in a row. Slayer Freddy said his success stems from a Youtube video on how to properly eat wings that he watched a few years ago. When he first came to the Hot Sauce Expo last year, he had no intention of competing, until he saw that he could win unlimited free beer if he conquered the wing eating competition. Slayer Freddy’s secret technique – cracking the wings in half to get the meat off the bone, sparing his mouth some of the heat from the sauce. After winning the competition, Slayer Freddy proceeded to the VIP booth where he chugged an ungodly amount of beer to quench his thirst.
The only things missing from the Hot Sauce Expo were Guy Fieri, Pantera, and Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson. Maybe someday, we’ll be able to smell what the Rock is cookin’ while Guy Fieri plays lead guitar on “Cowboys From Hell” with the rest of Pantera. But that day may be too hot to handle, even for the California Hot Sauce Expo.