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Willy B’s Raw and Fermented Hot Sauce

Two LA chefs and their affinity for the zesty flavors of lacto-fermentation

by Julie Wolfson in Food + Drink on 03 July 2014

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Growing up in a macrobiotic house can lead to both positive and negative reactions from the kids. On the plus side, Willy Barling of Willy B’s understood from a young age that his family prized eating fresh, healthy foods. (Barling also admits that when a fast food burger chain opened down the road, he and his brother would sneak out and eat some decidedly not-macrobiotic meals before heading back back to plates of vegetables, fish and natto.) Now as a chef and a parent, Barling has come full circle. Though he no longer follows an entirely macrobiotic diet, feeding his family and customers healthy fresh foods feels natural. So, Barling teamed up with Christian Page to create a line of raw, organic and lacto-fermented hot sauces alongside their sauerkraut, spice rubs and tomato jam. Soon pickled cucumber, okra, watermelon rind, fresno chili and red onions will join the Willy B’s assortment.

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We first tasted the fresh and zesty flavors of Willy B’s on a slice of spicy sopressata and mushroom pizza at Pizzanista in the downtown Los Angeles Arts District. Now—behind the scenes, inside the Willy B’s kitchen—we became privy to the planning stages for a new green hot sauce made from poblano, serrano and jalapeño chilies with tomatillos that will also be joining their range.

Barling and Page say they discovered their common love for hot sauce and spicy foods working together in the kitchen of LA's Short Order and started making their own sauerkraut and pickles for the outpost's burger-focused menu. After Baring tasted a raw fermented hot sauce and discovered that he really liked that flavor profile. "It has the kimchi sort of funk to it," explains Barling. "We call it 'the good funk.'" They also realized they had created a unique product: You can’t find many raw, fermented, lacto-fermented probiotic hot sauces. Why not try to fill a niche?

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To make their red sauce, they use sweet and meaty fresno chilies, which have enough natural water content in them to create a brine once they've added salt to the produce. The chilies are combined with ginger, garlic, onion, lime, cilantro, coriander, cumin and black pepper. Barling recommends pairing the red sauce with ramen and other Asian dishes. "And last night, I ate it with oysters," he adds. The orange hot sauce—inspired by Barling’s time living in Belize—balances the spicy and sweet flavors of fermented habanero with carrot, orange peel, turmeric and ginger pairs especially well with eggs to elevate a simple scramble or breakfast burrito.

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Not just a treat for the tastebuds, Willy B’s simple but delightful bullseye logo and bold package design was created by Chris Klosterman of Gold Hour Studio. Klosterman was tasked to come up with a simple, classic design for Willy B’s with a concentric circle bullseye, to tie together the labels and packaging for the entire, tasty product line.

Willy B’s will soon debut their deli concept featuring sandwiches and all of Willy B’s products as a pop-up in DTLA—with a permanent location to open soon after. They will also preview the menu for their new deli at the Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival come August.

Willy B’s is currently available at Erewhon Natural Foods and Urban Radish in Los Angeles.

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