Pi Rho Peppers of Mountain Top, Rescue Me Hot Sauce of Old Forge take home hardware at 9th Annual Hot Pepper Awards in Brooklyn
Mark Robbins and Kris Lavery are adding some spice to life. The two local hot sauce makers received high honors at the Ninth Annual Hot Pepper Awards, a national hot sauce and spicy food competition in Brooklyn, New York.
Robbins, owner of the Mountain Top’s Pi Rho Peppers, totalled seven first place finishes, including Best Overall Sauce and Best Industry Newcomer, for his Dat’s My’en sauce. Lavery, owns Rescue Me Hot Sauces in Old Forge and was awarded a second place finish in the category of Superhots Pepper Blend for his Three Dog Bite.
The Hot Pepper Awards are open to sauce producers who commercially prepare sauce for retail sale.
Robbins, a special education teacher in the Pocono Mountain school district, said Pi Rho was born from a passion for growing hot peppers and making sauces for himself. He decided to “go pro” when friends began asking him to reproduce his sauces. He said his father, Harry “Doc” Robbins, was a driving force in commercializing the process.
“I came up with a recipe I liked, and he liked it, and we decided to put it out there, get it tested and put it out for sale,” Robbins said.
Robbins’ Dat’s My’en sauce passed the litmus test with consumers and judges. The sauce maker draws names from his love for local dialect. Dat’s My’en was a phrase uttered by his family when collecting tricks during card games. And his other variety Heyna? Erneaux? comes from Northeastern Pennsylvania’s favorite validating question, “Hena, or no?” meaning “Isn’t it?” or “Am I right?” but the success of Robbins’ sauce is attributed to his tastes.
“I like fruity flavors,” Robbins said. “I was thinking cinnamon and pineapple go well together, and they would be great on pulled pork, and that’s one of the awards it won, for pulled pork.”
Lavery’s sauce is a blend of ghost pepper, habanero and Carolina reaper peppers combined with flavors that pleased the pallets of him and his wife, Lisa.
“We used fresh, organically grown pears that take the heat and sweeten it up a bit and, at the same time, complement it,” Lavery said. “Garlic was another big thing. It adds a good deal of flavor to it and helps make the heat more palatable.”
The Laverys began making hot sauce after discovering spicy food to be among their shared interests.
“The first batch we made … we enjoyed it so much, we decided we would make a batch, bottle it, put custom labels on it and give it out to our small wedding party as favors,” Lavery said. “What we didn’t expect was that every one of the guests would be calling us after the honeymoon to get more. That’s what made us think we were on to something.”
The couple uses Lisa’s grooming salon, Crazy Dog Lady, in Old Forge as a retail port for Three Dog Bite. Lavery said it allowed them to combine their passion for hot sauce and helping animals. A portion of the sauce proceeds is donated to PAWsitively For the Animals, an organization for the prevention of animal cruelty.
Robbins and Lavery became friends through hot sauce and have much in common. Both stress balance as the key to making good sauce.
“To me, it’s not just achieving blow-your-face-off hot,” Robbins said. “It’s also a balance of heat and flavor.”
“We’re big fans of heat with flavor, not just heat for heat’s sake,” he said.
Robbins and Lavery intend to take part in the New York Hot Sauce Expo in April. Robbins will try his award winning Dat’s My’en against industry competitors for a Screaming Mi Mi Award and Lavery plans to finalize two new recipes by that time.
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or [email protected]