Cobair Collinsworth looks shocked as she pours out hot sauce.

Local Heat: A Hot Ones-Style Interview

Food: Interviews & Features

Welcome to “Hot Ones,” SLUG style! In a somewhat confusing twist, today I am the bald man (Sean Evans of YouTube fame) and my interviewee, Cobair Collinsworth (pronounced similar to Stephen Colbert), contains all the niche interest, expertise and affinity for hot sauces. Collinsworth also happens to be the store manager of Draper’s foremost specialty goods store, Pirate O’s Gourmet Market. Walking into the vegan establishment Vertical Diner for our interview, it occurs to me that the best I can hope for in terms of a heat suppressant is oat milk. We sat down and tried six local hot sauces together, as I asked her six increasingly spicy questions. This is not the first time this week I will thank God that I own a bidet.

Uncle Chainsaw’s Scassa La Bocca

A lineup of the local hot sauces sampled.
Dylan Bueche and Cobair Collinsworth sampled six increasingly hot local sauces while conducting an interview. Photo: Ashley Christenson.

We begin with Uncle Chainsaw’s Scassa La Bocca. This one is creamy—perfect on our Tender Tigers (Vertical Diner’s seitan nuggets) and very little heat for a name that roughly translates to “mouth breaker.” Collinsworth recognizes Uncle Chainsaw’s as a newer brand, and this is a really solid flavor.

SLUG: I understand you grew up working at Pirate O’s. How have you seen it change in the intervening years?

Collinsworth: 27 years ago, Draper hardly existed. I counted two cars an hour going down 700 East from the front deck. Now we have 20 employees. We started as a specialty store but just listened to customers and stocked what they wanted—now the British think it’s a British store, the Germans think it’s a German store, the Dutch think it’s a Dutch store, and so on.

Salsitas Mendoza’s Hell Fire

Next up is Salsitas Mendoza’s Hell Fire. For having a good bit of heat, this one dumps out fast! It’s sharp and vinegary. We both preferred it in terms of spiciness, and Collinsworth notes that Pirate O’s was the first in town to carry this brand that’s now very popular!

SLUG: I heard there are 438 hot sauces stocked within the store—how did Pirate O’s become known for hot sauce?

Collinsworth: Genuinely, it’s just because my dad and I love hot sauce and we kept adding to the collection! (What began as a square foot-and-a-half space for hot sauce now occupies an entire wall.)

Ndungu Nzitende

Mama Africa did not come to play! Collinsworth had never tried this Ndungu Nzitende sauce and it snuck up on both of us. She lingers! This was the first one that cleared out my sinuses, and it has a lot of flavor. The Pepcid AC suddenly makes an appearance. Can we get some oat milk over here, please?

Bueche and Collinsworth cheers with vegan wings over a table.
Bueche’s bald cap added to the attempt to replicate the interviews on “Hot Ones.” Photo: Ashley Christenson.

SLUG: Your slogan is “Where food memories begin.” What is your earliest food memory?

Collinsworth: Growing up in the store, we tried everything that came through! I had this thing for Sixlets and Maraschino cherries. I would just eat those constantly. I would happily die of candy and pasta.

Vertical Diner’s Inferno Sauce 

Too thicc to handle, we had to pop the lid off of Vertical Diner’s Inferno Sauce to get it out. Habanero is the alleged pepper ingredient; it’s lemony and mango-y and ultimately weak shit in terms of heat, but with a good and unique flavor. It appears to me that most hot sauce is already vegan, but it’s worth making a pilgrimage for this one to pair with the Tender Tigers.

SLUG: There has been such an explosion of local hot sauce and chili oil makers in Salt Lake over the past few years. What do you attribute the local boom to?

Collinsworth: Honestly, I credit “Hot Ones.” It’s made people less fearful of the spice and makes hot sauce feel more approachable to everyone. There’s also so many ways anyone can make it, whether it’s a fermented base, a sugar base, etc.

Z’s Berzerker Rage Blackberry 

Z’s Berzerker Rage Blackberry is another local favorite that Collinsworth is excited to try. It’s jammy, not spicy at all, but we loved it. It’s relegated to the back of the line in terms of heat intensity, but Collinsworth insists it would be really good with eggs, as she prefers strawberry jam on hers already. Z’s is also a tattoo shop and the whole line of sauces has unique art for each product, as well as a bloody mary mix.

SLUG: Which ingredients make for the best hot sauce in terms of heat and flavor?

Collinsworth: I love sweet heat, so I’m a big fan of mango or peach, and then mix that with your pepper. Serranos are my go-to for a fruit base.

Tongue Spank Rye Whisky Reaper Very Hot Sauce

This is like a snake bite, [it’s going to] make my lips nice and full like a Kardashian!” Collinsworth exclaims excitedly about the Tongue Spank Rye Whisky Reaper Very Hot Sauce. The first sauce to live up to its name, we elect to make the classic drug mistake: dabbing up another bite when it appears the initial serving hasn’t quite kicked in yet. It was, however, well worth it for the taste.

SLUG: Can you describe the most inopportune time and place you’ve gotten hot sauce somewhere that it shouldn’t be?

Collinsworth: I thought I was going to be so tough and handle this hot sauce at a food show. I ate a bunch and my face turned bright red and I was sweating profusely, then I had to endure the rest of the convention without actually being able to taste anything.

The sea was angry that day, my friends. My brain was buzzing not unlike a runner’s high; I’m not sure whether to attribute that feeling to the capsaicin, the charming conversation with Collinsworth or the thrill of actually getting a meal paid for by SLUG Magazine. Let’s just say it was some combination of all three. I haven’t been to Pirate O’s, but the thought of wandering the aisles with Jimmy Buffet filling the air (including the pasta room) among local offerings and homesick Europeans makes me think that it could be worth doing this to my asshole (again). Check out more offerings from Pirate O’s and Vertical Diner on Instagram at @pirateosgourmet and @vertical_diner_slc, respectively. And when you buy from Pirate O’s, you’re supporting two local businesses.

Read more lists of great local food:
Salt Lake County’s Dumpling Destinations
Around the World in 7 Grocery Trips