The Hot Sauce Hall of Fame Foundation of New York City announced its inaugural inductees earlier this month at a ceremony in Brooklyn. Among the hot sauce legends inducted were John “CaJohn” Hard of CaJohn’s Fiery Foods of Westerville, Ohio, alongside hot sauce pioneer Edmund McIlhenny, the founder of Tabasco.
“It is a real honor to be recognized by my peers and the industry at the opening of the hall,” said CaJohn, who founded his company in 1997. “We have seen the hot sauce and spicy food world come a long way over the last 20 years. I think our products and vision have helped meld hot sauce into the mainstream American palate.”
The winners were selected by members of the specialty food industry. Chefs, food writers, store owners and manufacturers voted along the lines of the Grammy or Oscar awards, based on the influence the nominees have had in the market and the impact they have made promoting hot sauce. Ten nominees were considered and five were chosen as the first inductees into the Hot Sauce Hall of Fame, with each winner receiving a bright red blazer and a Hall of Fame ring.
CaJohn is a four-time world hot sauce champion and the most awarded “fiery foods” personality in the world—amassing more than 500 awards, including 225 first-place honors at various food competitions, shows and cooking contests. Additionally, he has won awards for hot sauces, salsas, spice rubs, barbecue sauces, wing sauces and a variety of other products. He’s been featured multiple times on the Food Network, The Cooking Channel, The History Channel, The Travel Channel and all four major networks.
Specialty foods experts say that CaJohn’s real mark on the industry has been the ability to create successful products using the world’s hottest chile peppers so they deliver flavor along with fire.
He was instrumental in bringing India’s Ghost Pepper to the U.S. in 2007. More recently, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion and Carolina Reaper chile, have become part of his “arsenal.” However, there are plenty of milder award winners in his extensive line of products.
“It’s great seeing one of Columbus’ own receive a well-deserved honor like this,” said Ed Kowalski, executive chef for Nationwide Arena & The Columbus Blue Jackets. “Although I have been a long time lover of spicy foods, it was CaJohn who introduced me to the Chilehead community and its incredible members. I couldn’t be prouder to call John my friend.”
Kowalski is like many people across the country that the “Godfather of Hot Sauces” (CaJohn’s industry nickname) has introduced to the world of fiery foods. In this role, CaJohn has been a voice and mentor to many budding hot sauce makers and has helped launch a number of them into businesses.
“I love what I do, I love spicy foods, I love this industry,” he said. “The sauce makers, Chileheads and hot sauce fans are a demographic that enjoys all things hot and spicy. I relish being one of the primary ambassadors and spokesmen of this group. We are somewhat fanatical about our chile peppers, but we really are a community trying to help each other succeed. Better products and successful companies help the industry grow—and that’s good for everybody.”
Before beginning his fiery foods company, CaJohn ironically ran a fire protection system company.