Adam Kesselman has undertaken possibly one of the biggest challenges in food: making a small-batch sriracha that can compete with the long-established, bigger brands. Spoiler: he's nailed it.
The products Kesselman creates at Sosu Sauces are spicy, vibrant, and incredibly pure of flavor—which makes sense: he sources the best ingredients and makes each batch by hand, with care. We chatted with him about his process and how he started Sosu.
Where did you grow up?
Santa Rosa, CA.
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
I never focused on one career, but like most kids, went through phases. However, there were constant themes: creativity, leadership, food/tastemaking, independence. I always wanted to work for myself, enjoy time in nature, and have a positive impact on the world.
Who taught you to cook? And, if the answer is different: how did your interest in food and cooking ignite?
I fell in love with food when I was 14, though when I think back, my obsession with great flavors and the stories and experiences behind those foods started when I was much younger. Travel stimulated my curiosity around the story of flavor.
I taught myself to cook. I would spend hours poring over cooking magazines like Saveur and Cooks Illustrated, reading cookbooks, and watching the few cooking shows on PBS in the mid-90s. I would practice on my family, which my mother was happy to oblige, since it meant she didn’t always have to be the one cooking for a family of five. I got my first restaurant job at 16 and put myself through college working in restaurants.
I’ve always been inspired by curiosity and my love of improvising based on the best of what I can find in the markets.
Sriracha tends to develop pretty hardcore devotees, but developing a whole line of sriracha products is a step beyond that. Tell us how you first discovered and fell in love with sriracha.
I’ve been enjoying sriracha for many years, but always thought the rooster sauce lacked focus, clarity, and bold flavor — it tastes watered-down, overly sweet, and full of stabilizers. Sosu is our opportunity to marry 4 straightforward and clean ingredients, ferment them in whisky-soaked oak and create a wonderful, edgy, complex sriracha unlike anything on the market.
People do tend to just go for the ubiquitous rooster sauce. Were you apprehensive about making your own/making a competing sauce, so to speak?
Not at all. There is always room for improvement. Sosu is as pure and straightforward as it gets. We know our farmers, we make everything by hand — you can really taste the difference and quality like that is always recognizable.
Sosu's barrel-aged sriracha
How did you come upon the recipe you use now? How much experimentation and tinkering did it take?
Fermentation is certainly an art form. There are some basic rules to follow, but we are always tasting and tweaking, trying to develop as much balance and flavor as possible.
What’s your favorite way to use your products?
I love it on eggs, pork buns, and burritos, and love to mix it with mayo to dip roasted potatoes in and put on sandwiches.
What’s the weirdest way you’ve ever used sriracha?
Try it on peanut butter...it’s a thing!
What kinds of products do you have an eye toward developing down the line?
We think of ourselves as a fermented sauce company. We’re working on some new fermented sauces and condiments that will bring some edginess and notable quality to the condiment space in your fridge.
You must have quite a hot sauce collection. Other than sriracha, what are your other favorite types of hot sauces or sources of heat to add to food?
We love and respect so many hot sauce producers out there...the great thing about hot sauce is that you can never have too many options; it’s such a mood based choice. Some days I need Cholula; other days call for Yellow Bird or Marie Sharp’s from Belize. We recently did a hot sauce trade with Ground Up Flavor Company in Decatur, GA, who make great sauces.
What’s your favorite local restaurant, café, or market?
Bartevelle Cafe in Berkeley, CA is one of my favorite little cafes. Posie in Larkspur makes the best ice cream I’ve ever had.
Do you listen to music or podcasts while you cook? If so, what/which?
I love to listen to old jazz, but oftentimes I prefer the sounds of the kitchen.
What are your favorite cookbooks?
Yotam Ottolenghi’s books are a great source of creative inspiration.
What are your favorite non-cookbook books or authors?
It runs the gamut, but for contemporary writers, I’m a big fan of Ann Patchett.
What’s your favorite comfort meal to make?
Pasta with canned tuna and kale.
What’s your go-to dinner party meal to make?
Whatever is the most beautiful at the farmers’ market.
What’s your favorite drink of the moment?
We've got some quick-fire questions for you now—answer these before you have a chance to think too long about them. Dog or cat?
Tomato sauce or pesto?
Regular fries or waffle fries?
Chocolate or caramel?
Pizza or pasta?
Wine, beer, or cocktail?