The cold fried chicken sandwich at Michael Voltaggio's ink.sack is one of the restaurant's bestsellers. The meat is cooked sous-vide with piment d'espelette and then breaded in corn flakes and fried. It's topped with crisp lettuce, pickles and tangy housemade ranch cheese and drizzled with a small-batch year-old hot sauce called Gindo's Spice of Life.
Made by a local bartender and home chef named Chris Ginder, Gindo's Spice of Life has been generating buzz among local chefs who favor its fierce but forgiving heat and rich, well-balanced flavor. Besides Voltaggio's kitchen, the sauce is also used at Umami Burger, Umamicatessan, the Pikey, the York and Ray's & Stark Bar.
Ginder, it turns out, is like the Forrest Gump of hot sauce: He always happens to be in the right place at the right time.
His is "the hot sauce that chefs love to love," says Umami Burger founder Adam Fleischman, explaining that Ginder — whom everyone calls Gindo — started bartending at Umami Urban two years ago and eventually asked Fleishman to try his hot sauce. Fleischman did, liked it and began using it in the restaurant's Bloody Mary mix and for its hot wing burger.
Soon Fleischman wanted to roll out a line of Umami seasonings and sauces for home, so he hired Ginder to take charge of the production.
The Umami Products Co. also includes Gindo's Spice of Life sauce, which is a huge coup for Ginder's tiny operation.
Voltaggio came to love Ginder's hot sauce after Ginder gave him a bottle when he came in to eat at Umami Burger.
"I liked the fact that he was like, 'Try my hot sauce,'" says Voltaggio who recently name-checked Gindo's Spice of Life in an interview in GQ and appeared on "Good Morning America" with a bottle to demonstrate how to make his chicken sandwich for a television audience of more than 5 million. "How often do you hear that come out of someone's mouth?"
Ginder grew up in New Jersey and was crazy about hot wings. A few years ago he set out to make the perfect wing sauce. His friends said he should bottle it, so in April 2011 he did. The sauce is made with fresh local habaneros (most hot sauces use dry peppers), red bell peppers and a blend of peppercorns and imported Black Lava, Alaea and Himalayan Pink sea salts. It's a deep, ruddy red and has a complex flavor that cuts through peppery heat. Ginder currently produces 50 to 100 cases of sauce per month. Each case contains a dozen 8-ounce bottles, which sell for $10.
"The mystery behind the sauce is the fact that he can use a pepper such as habanero and make it palatable. It's spicy but not overpowering," says Voltaggio. "It's more like a condiment. I think it's got what people like about sriracha."
And like sriracha, fans of the sauce are addicted.
"I'm literally eating a piece of chicken right now and pouring Gindo all over it," says Pikey's Jared Meisler over the phone. "And I was just thinking about why I like it so much."
Meisler, who co-owns the new British gastropub with a menu by former Spotted Pig chef Ralph Johnson, says that Ginder befriended him shortly after the Pikey opened in April and gave him a bottle of sauce. Meisler loved it and gave it to Johnson, and Johnson decided to buy a few cases and send a bottle out with every burger and chicken sandwich the restaurant sells.
"For now I'm just keeping it small and trying to figure out how to manage it," says Ginder, who still bartends a few nights a week at Takami in downtown L.A. "I'm also working on a green sauce with jalapenos."
Gindo's Spice of Life sauce can be ordered from the Umami Products Co., http://www.umami.com/shop