You might recognize Chef Johnny McLaughlin from his appearance on CNBC's "Crowd Rules!" or Food Network's "Chopped." He and his wife Nicole started making sauces for family and friends from what they grew in their garden, eventually selling their sauces at a local festival in 2008 after being convinced to do so by a friend. The following year, Heartbreaking Dawns was born, launching their Classic Gold, Mango Habanero, and Jalapeno Pineapple sauces. Six years later, Heartbreaking Dawns is still going strong as they continue to expand their company and introduce new flavors.
I got the chance to catch up with Johnny and ask him a few questions about his sauces as well as what’s coming up next. Here’s a bit of what we talked about:
Mary: How did you and Nicole meet?
Chef Johnny: We actually don't have any intricate fairy tale backstory to our meeting. We met among mutual friends, immediately began spending all of our time together, moved in together shortly after, got married, had our little girl Riley 2 years ago and are expecting a boy in August...more textbook than story book. We are however madly in love!!
Mary: Can you give a little history about Heartbreaking Dawns (any tidbits beyond what's on your website)?
Chef Johnny: The core of HBD really started as just a guy who loved making hot sauce. There was no initial idea to become a business, and neither Nicole nor I had any idea that the extensive world of fiery foods even existed. In reflection, this was our biggest asset as the sauces we were creating had no point of reference. We weren't trying to make sauces that emulated anything already out there.
Mary: How do you come up with your sauce flavors, and which is your personal favorite?
Chef Johnny: All of our sauces begin with the flavor profile of the pepper itself. That’s what is most important. The featured pepper must come through in both profile and heat. After that, it's a matter of pairing up that flavor with a landscape or backdrop of other ingredients that will complement, accent, and enhance the overall flavor. We're more interested in those unique taste sensations the peppers have to offer than the sheer heat of it all…My favorite will always be our original 1498 Scorpion Sauce…That is the one that put us on the map, and also I feel is the sauce that let me hit our stride in our signature style. Nicole’s is Classic Gold...it's her go-to.
Mary: What flavor profiles do you generally tend to go for personally, and what sauces do you like from other brands?
Chef Johnny: I enjoy unique yet familiar profiles…A good sauce needs to be versatile. When you start incorporating ingredients that are TOO out there and for the sake of conversation over flavor, it's lost. If it's got satisfying heat, can stand on its own and also come alive on any dish, it's good enough for me. From other brands my favorites right now are Queen Majesty's Jalapeño Tequila Sauce & Bacchanal Pepper Sauce.
Mary: Which of your sauces do you recommend for someone just getting into hot sauces, and which for a seasoned chilihead who is trying your brand for the first time?
Chef Johnny: Classic Gold!! That's our lead in...The tomato base sets it apart from the everyday vinegar table sauces, but the versatile use will be familiar territory. Our original 1498 continues to be recognized as a masterpiece; while not our hottest, it will satisfy and mesmerize the chilehead palate.
Mary: Do you have any new sauces coming down the pipeline?
Chef Johnny: We do......It's coming out in the next 6 to 8 weeks......it's delicious and it's green......
So now we all have to keep an eye out for a delicious green sauce from Heartbreaking Dawns over the next few weeks. I can’t wait to try it!
Full disclosure: Heartbreaking Dawns Jalapeno Pineapple was what turned me onto hot sauce a few years ago. At that time, the only sauces I had ever tried were Cayenne style that just didn't suit my taste. The Jalapeno Pineapple was my first experience with a sweeter, fruity-style hot sauce where I could appreciate both the taste and the slight burn. Since then, I’ve branched out so I can appreciate other flavor profiles as well (still not a fan of Cayenne though, but that’s just me!) although I still prefer fruit-based sauces. HBD Jalapeno Pineapple will always have a special place in my heart and in my fridge.