Food & Drink

This Man Is Making A Hot Sauce Empire With Philippine Chilies

Justin Yenko is out to make the PH even hotter.
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Tipple and Slaw’s Justin Yenko is in pursuit of creating the hottest and best-tasting sauce for your meal. It may sound ambitious, but already the self-proclaimed "chillihead" is on track with his suite of award-winning Bad Boy Tikboy and Garapal hot sauces.

“I want hot sauce to be a staple in your pantry, dining table, or kitchen,” he says. “It’s not just for pizza.”

His hot sauces go by crazy names, a telltale sign that you’re in for an adventure: Insane in the Brain (habañero, labuyo, garlic, and cumin), Signal No. 5 (ghost pepper and garlic), Sinturon ni Hudas (Trinidad moruga scorpion, ghost pepper, habañero, and garlic), and Killa Bees (Carolina reaper and honey). Each one is hand crafted using locally grown super hot peppers, or chillis.

“I love hot food and I like working with different types of peppers,” Justin says, on why he got into the hot sauce game. “I make hot sauce because chillis are good for the heart. It’s also may way of helping our local farmers.”

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Personal motivations aside, Justin has taken note of Filipinos’ particular fondness for condiments and dips when at the dining table. In fact, for Justin, these dipping sauces are part and parcel of our culture.

“We always have something on the table,” he says. “It can be as simple as banana ketchup for fried chicken, patis-calamansi with nilagang bulalo, toyomansi with grilled chicken or tortang talong. Filipinos can’t seem to have a complete meal without their own sawsawan.” Hot sauces are, of course, among the many condiments that remain staples in Filipino households, thus, serving as the backbone of Justin’s growing line of zingers.

“I want to be known not for my name, but rather for the products and the food that I make,” he says. “I want the people to appreciate every single detail of the food I serve.” Aside from hot sauces, Justin is best known for his take on Asian food, particularly modern Filipino.

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“My culinary philosophy is that I cook using the best quality ingredients,” he says. “[These do] not have to be expensive. I love to work with local ingredients available and turn these into something special. I never take for granted the quality of food.” The secret behind his culinary pieces? Each one displays a mix of good texture, color, aroma, flavor—a play on the senses.

Justin got a head start in the dining scene by taking up culinary in Singapore. There, he went on to work at Shangri-La’s Rasa Sentosa Resort, then ventured to local establishments such as Chelsea Market & Café, Nice Place, Barley Gastropub, and now, Tipple & Slaw.

Hot sauce remains at the heart of his cause and passion for food. This particular variant led him to establish the Philippine Hot Sauce Club, composed of over a thousand hot sauce makers and enthusiasts.

“We have monthly hot sauce tasting sessions at our club’s home base, The Sweatshoppe in Malingap Street, Quezon City,” he shares. “We try over 200 kinds of hot sauces, have a discussion on these, and just hang out. We also have quarterly hot sauce parties where we invite bands to play for us while we sample sauces from the hot sauce buffet table.”

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The club, formed in December 2016 together with Ponchit Ponce Enrile and fellow hot sauce maker, Eric del Rosario, convenes on the online space as well. They have an official Facebook page (Philippine Hot Sauce Club) where they share hot sauce making tips, reviews, recipes, and articles.

“[The local hot sauce scene is] already growing. There are farmers who are starting to plant different varieties of chilies all over the Philippines,” Justin says. “There are so many people now who love hot sauce. Kids are not an exception.”

On his mission to make the best hot sauce variety there is, he says there is no competition. “I simply want to be part of the growing family of chili growers and hot sauce makers,” Justin says. “I want to share my love for producing different sauces. A lot of Filipinos love hot stuff, we have a big opportunity to make it big in hot sauce industries, both here and abroad.”

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