Dave's Insanity Sauce
SAN RAFAEL — When Dave Hirschkop introduced his Insanity Sauce at the National Fiery Foods show in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the early nineties, he was kicked out. His sauce was just too hot.
The 36-year-old triathlete started making the hot sauces in a restaurant called Burrito Madness near the University of Maryland restaurant that he opened after getting out of college.
“I had been in California saw the taquerias out here and the East Coast really did not have anything like that…so I went out there and tried to set that up …and I found that owning a restaurant is a difficult life,” Hirschkop says.
Hirschkop, who now lives in San Rafael, first started making his own hot sauces as a hobby that went along with this new restaurant. Making very hot sauces not only appealed to hot sauce aficionados, it also helped Hirschkop solve a problem at his fledgling restaurant.
“I found that while opening the restaurant there were too many drunks in the restaurant – and that bugged me,” Hirschkop says.
So he started to use the hot sauce as a way to get the drunks to quiet down or leave.
A typical dialogue went something like this:
“You want hot sauce on your burrito?”
“You probably don’t want super hot, you want regular hot.”
“You really don’t want that.
“YEAH. Give me the hottest thing you got.”
So Hirschkop would give the drunk troublemaker a burrito with his hottest sauce. This usually sent the startled patron packing, no bouncers needed.
“We were making hot sauces and we were making them hotter and hotter,” he says.
Over time, Hirschkop’s hot sauce developed a cult following.
“There was guy, a floor trader on the Commodity Exchange in Chicago….they bet him either 8 or 10 or 12,000 dollars he couldn’t drink half a bottle of Insanity Sauce,” Hirsckop says.
“He drank the half bottle – and then went to the hospital.”
“Insanity Sauce was the first one,” Hirschkop remembers “We pretty much had four at the same time. The first three were Temporary Insanity, Insanity, and Badland Barbeque. Then Soyabi was the next one.” Today there are 18 hot sauces among about 50 products produced by his company near produce market in San Francisco.
His following today includes American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He gets a few emails every week from military personnel who are stationed abroad saying they can’t find Insanity Sauce and want it shipped overseas to them. Many of the emails come along with photos of troops holding a bottle of his sauce in far off corners of the world.
They want to use the sauces with their military rationed food or they just bring out the bottle to remind them of home.
Hirschkop says, “Everybody, especially in the military, knows somebody who thinks they are super tough. So they make bets about who can eat the hot sauce” — and get to watch even the hardiest tough guys turn nine shades of purple.
So what’s the right way to try Insanity Sauce? Like the old joke goes, very carefully.
“The bottle says – ‘one drop at time,'” Hirschkop notes. “We suggest that people just take a tiny bit on a tooth pick and sort of a gauge how hot it is for them.
“You want to start slowly and taste — that’s the thing that chefs and food professionals know how to do best,” he says. “Anyone can follow a recipe, but you have to be able to taste what you are making and then be able to identify what’s missing and make adjustments.”
Hirschkop loves his product for more than just culinary purposes, however. “While I have a very strong abiding interest in food I didn’t necessarily have strong interest in spicy food. All food interested me, but what interested me about this was humor,” he says.
“I like things that are funny and burning the heck out of people was just funny. This is an item you can really play with,” he says.
“When I want to promote it a trade shows I wear a straight jacket – it is called Insanity Sauce after all.” We had a booth that looked like an insane asylum. All our literature played to the crazy theme. The sauce just lends itself to humor.”
Not everybody who buys his hot sauces use them as a condiment or an entertainment trick. “We’ve heard of people who use is a bat repellant, a dog repellant or a deer repellant. One guy uses it as a driveway grease remover,” Hirschkop says.
Regardless of how it’s used, Hirschkop believes he will always have customers for even his most fiery products. “No matter how hot you make something, there is always gonna be one human being who can somehow eat it and just say ‘Yeah, it’s spicy.’ There are people out there who make you scratch your head and say WOW.”