Saucy Business


Enough time has passed that I can look back on that day and laugh about my journey. For what felt like an eternity, I hit one stumbling block over another, until I found myself at rock bottom, which is what reckoning with half a ton of charred chilli sauce feels like.

By experiencing the limitations of the factories and the people who operate them, I learned where I could streamline my processes and where I simply wasn’t going to compromise. Quality of ingredients, precision in temperature, timing, and flavor were nonnegotiable, while certain operations, like deep-frying shallots, can and should be outsourced to professionals. 

I later found that, contrary to Boss Li’s insistence that she could export my sauces to the US, her factory did not actually have the necessary FDA documentation, and relied instead on backdoor guanxi (connections, also known as bribes) to pass through customs. This did not come as a surprise. 

It took another six months before I finally found the right factory to work with. It’s a pristine facility whose owners, both biochemists and food scientists, don’t take precision lightly. Their stringent standards for quality and food safety go far beyond what is required by the industry, as reflected in their heavy investment in infrastructure, the several successful batches we’ve produced together, and the total competency of every employee I’ve worked with so far. There are no Rottweilers guarding the front gate, and the CEO’s only flex is a brand-new Tesla parked outside.

I wish I had found them in the beginning. And then I remember Laozi’s age-old proverb, a saying whose meaning had often been lost on me, but which suddenly hit home with great power: 千里之行, 始於足下. A journey of a thousand miles starts with just one step. 

There really is no fast-forward button to mastery – behind every step forward may be a couple steps backward – but slowly, it is earned.