Watch out for the Wings of Death

Janine Volkmar
Mad River Union

BLUE LAKE – Cal Ferris has a wicked laugh. He’s a chef and the owner, with his wife Heidi, of Humboldt Hot Sauce, the local company that has been winning awards for its hot sauce all over America.

But he’s not going for flavor or for the finesse of cooking great chicken wings in the Wings of Death hot wings eating contest on Saturday, Feb. 3 at noon at the Inked Hearts Tattoo Expo in Blue Lake. This is the first year for the contest.

“It’s not about the flavor,” he said. “It’s the brutal pain and anguish, as in ‘Whoa, can I make it through this torture?”

The eight contestants (already signed up, so don’t get any wild ideas) will have a plate of hot wings in front of them. They are given eight minutes to eat the wings, that’s all the meat off the bone, and then three minutes of “burn time.”

HOT! HOT! HOT! Cal and Heidi Ferris, owners of Humboldt Hot Sauce. Submitted photo

“They have to sit there and make sure they don’t come back up,” Ferris said with that laugh. “There will be sweat towels, milk, ice water, and limes but they can’t touch anything for three minutes, not even to wipe their face or lips. They must lick all the sauce off their fingers too.”

The contest might even go to a second stage if there is a tie, a stage that will involve a “challenge chip.”  That’s a chip completely covered in Carolina Reaper powder. For the uninitiated, Carolina Reaper is considered by many the hottest pepper in the world.

Ferris is making a special blend of hot sauce for the wings.

“I’m throwing in the works,” he said. “I’m using our Habañero Mango hot sauce as a base and adding Carolina Reaper, Satalli peppers, some Trinidad Scorpion powder, and some smoked ghost pepper powder.”

I asked Ferris if the ghost pepper was so named because it sneaks up on people.

He laughed that wicked laugh again and said, “It’s not sneaky. It will slap you right away and then go harder.”

Ferris has seen lots of hot wing contests at the many hot sauce expos that he’s been to, but this will be his first time putting on a contest. He’ll have monitors and judges to help.

“There are some rules involved,” he said. “It will be interesting to see who can go through it.”

Humboldt Hot Sauce was born when Ferris and his friend Daniel Bixler “sat around the Thanksgiving table to play music and enjoy exquisite food,” according to their website, “The sauces are made with all natural ingredients, are gluten free, and feature a slow burn.”

They started the company in 2009 and got the sauces to market in 2010.

Bixler is no longer a part of the company but is still part of the hot sauce family. Heidi Ferris has joined the business to focus on marketing.

Humboldt Hot Sauce is also collaborating on two new sauces. The first is with the owners of Cafe Nooner, Joe and Lorrena Filgas, and it is called Smokin Hot Nooner Hotsauce, according to the website.

The second is a collaboration with “Sean Paxton, aka, the Home Brew Chef to create a new line of hot sauces called Eat Beer Hotsauce!”  The first one, called “Nor-Cal Mole,” includes such interesting ingredients as blood oranges, cocoa nibs, black garlic, white miso, Anderson Valley Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout, and those famous Carolina Reapers. Other sauces are in the works.

Ferris has lots of food experience in his past. He went to college in Humboldt in the 1980s, worked as a dishwasher all the way up to chef, and owned a restaurant in Portland, before coming back down to Humboldt. It’s obvious from his descriptions that he is passionate about hot sauces in general and Humboldt Hot Sauce in particular.

The company’s sauces have won prizes at expos in Louisiana, Albuquerque, Houston, Portland and around California. A New York expo is “in the future.” Humboldt Hot Sauce is available in all the usual grocery stores in the county but also at such different venues as Almquist Lumber, McKinleyville Home & Garden Center, and many local breweries and liquor stores. Now that's marketing!

The company is donating a basket of hot sauces and rubs to the winner of the hot wings contest. Ted and Amy Marks of Nor Cal Tattoo are donating a $500 gift certificate for tattooing and the Blue Lake Casino is kicking in $250 prize money. Who knows, the winner may end up with a tattoo of a hot pepper. Runners-up get bragging rights.

"People who are entering will be going into a ring of fire," Ted Marks said. "Cal is taking real pride in this and I think he can hurt some people."

"It's actually really fun to watch!" Ferris said.


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