In 2017, Dr. Dexter Holland earned his Ph.D. in molecular biology and, of course, he fronts one of the biggest punk rock bands in the history of the genre — SoCal faves the Offspring. So what does a respected academic do when he’s not on the road performing in front of thousands of people? How does he wind down? Why, he makes hot sauce of course.
Holland’s inkling for the sauce that would come to be called Gringo Bandito came a decade ago. Growing up in Southern California around Mexican and Hispanic culture, he says that he’s long been a fan of hot sauce and the idea to make one came to him out of the blue.
I don’t even know how to cook, so I had no idea how I was going to do that, but I thought it would be fun to try something,” he says. “Back then, the internet was going but it wasn’t as robust as it is now. You actually couldn’t find lots of hot sauce recipes. You could find lots of salsa recipes, but it wasn’t easy to find out how to make hot sauce. So I actually spent, I want to say two years on it, just trying different things, talking to some people. I had some people helping me, and eventually we came on the magic recipe. I think it was version number seven. It tasted great, and I got such a kick out of it I decided to give it to my friends.”
So that’s what he did — produced small quantities of the sauce and gift wrapped the bottles to give to friends as birthday presents. When those friends reacted enthusiastically, Holland decided to expand the operation and actually sell the thing. One local supermarket became five, and Gringo Bandito took off from there. Naturally, there’s been a steep learning curve, but nothing Holland couldn’t overcome (he is a doctor, after all.)
“It’s been a challenge for sure,” he says. “When we were getting the recipe together, I was literally cooking on my stove in a saucepan. It would make two and a half bottles — that was my initial batch size. Then you just had to figure out how to make it in a commercial kitchen, and then as our demand grew we had to find bigger kitchens and do things in a different way. We’re at the point now where we make 60,000 bottles a month. It’s grown quite a bit. But like I said, it’s fun. I don’t think I’m going to send my kids to college with hot sauce money. I don’t think it’s gonna work out like that. But it’s been really fun. You meet different people that way. It’s even fun with bands. I might not talk to a certain band, but guys will come up to me and go, ‘Dude, I love your hot sauce.’ They’re not saying I love your new album. So it breaks down barriers in a different way too.”
Now, there are four varieties of Gringo Bandito available — as well as the Original Red, there’s a Super Hot red, a Green, and a Spicy Yellow made with Scotch bonnet peppers that will blow your head off. But putting the heat to one side, flavor comes first.
“First of all, I’m a fan of hot sauce,” says Holland. “I’m not going to say Tabasco sucks or whatever. But what I want in a hot sauce is I want them to taste good and not just be hot. That sounds like a ‘duh,’ like it should be intuitive. But a lot of times, hot sauces are hot for the sake of being hot. The taste gets pushed to the side. So first and foremost, it had to taste good.”
And it does. A note from Holland on each bottle promises that he “searched far and wide for the perfect combination of pepper and spices to make your next dining experience a zinger.” He also personally guarantees that it’s like “a party in your mouth.” The combination of scorpion and jolokia (or ghost) peppers in the Super Hot sauce sure zings. But again, flavor comes first.
“We did a green one — a lot of people love green hot sauce and I do too — so we had those two flavors,” Holland says. “But we decided to do a Super Hot because after a few years, you could see people getting used to spicier food. It was almost like the public’s palettes were changing and they were asking for something spicier. Finally, the yellow one — I had the chance to try it. It was a different kind of ingredient, a Scotch bonnet pepper. It ended up that that one’s probably the hottest, actually.”
Generally speaking, the ingredients of any hot sauce are fairly standard. It’s the combination, the ratios, that make them different. The Gringo Bandito bottles say as much, with a little note under the nutritional info that reads: “Hot Sauce really doesn’t have any nutritional value. It’s vinegar and peppers, for God’s sake. What did you expect? Why are you even trying to determine the nutritional value of Hot Sauce? Just enjoy it!”
Holland sure does, taking sauces on tour with him so as to make road food enjoyable: “I’m calling now from the car — we’re driving to LAX because we’re flying to Buenos Aires, and I have two bottles packed in my suitcase — the red and the yellow. I live it.”
Of course, his sauces put Holland in a club with Red Rocker Sammy Hagar, who has made his own salsas for years, though there are no plans to collaborate. Holland has considered moving into tequila, though that’s just a germ of an idea right now. Gringo Bandito is also available in some restaurants, and they have low-key been making salsas for Chronic Tacos. As for a next move, Holland is thinking outside of the box.
“You know, what everyone else is into right now is the CBD stuff,” he says. “The Chronic guys and I are talking about putting together a CBD hot sauce.”
Now that really would be a party in your mouth.
Go to gringobandito.comfor more info.