We have sent many of you who travel to Charleston, SC to dine in a restaurant where Geoff Rhyne is the chef—be it FIG, The Ordinary or now Leon's. His food is thoughtful, creative and keep-eating-even-though-you-are-full delicious! Geoff just launched Red Clay Southern Style Hot Sauce! We decided to pick his brain about his inspirations as a southern chef and his spectacular new business venture with Red Clay. So get to know our talented, thoughtful and passionate friend. Then buy yourself a bottle (or ten) of Red Clay. Share it with your friends, put it on everything, and enjoy!
For you, what is the most satisfying part of being a chef?
Without question, the most satisfying part of being a chef is the relationships developed with the purveyors. I’ve always felt a connection with the land and ocean, and thus, I have a profound respect for those that are the caretakers of these areas. The ones I seek out understand the cyclical nature of each relationship while also producing incredible ingredients.
What made you take the leap to producing your own hot sauce?
When I opened The Ordinary as the Chef de Cuisine, I built a pantry of ingredients that would complement simply prepared seafood dishes. Originally, I was making 5 different hot sauces with different flavor profiles. The one that would eventually become Red Clay Hot Sauce was the Fresno chili based sauce that literally had customers of the restaurant stealing it off the tables at an alarming rate. Imagine going into a fine dining restaurant and stealing something—takes some serious fortitude and something that must provoke the thought “who cares if I get caught, I have to have this!” Eventually, a guest of the restaurant made the move to ask for my information. An entrepreneur himself, we began meeting over breakfast (with Red Clay on it of course), and the rest is rooted in history!
Your ingredients are specifically sourced- why?
For every Chef worth their weight in salt, it all starts with quality ingredients. As mentioned above, it is important for me to know who is behind the ingredient so I can be comfortable that they are stewards of the land. Currently, I’m working with a local farmer, Lowcountry Street Grocery, to utilize the seeds from my 1st processing for future plantings.
Separately, I’ve never understood the use of distilled vinegar in sauces. It’s a solid cleaning agent, and it can be used in some applications where it is flavored by spices (i.e. turmeric with Bread and Butter pickles). At the end of the day, a product is the sum of its parts, so I feel it necessary to source out the best ingredients possible.
What makes Red Clay southern?
Red Clay Hot Sauce is Southern in so many ways. The name itself refers to the red clay that covers the land of south Georgia. Specifically, it harkens back to the times that I spent in and around Ellaville, Georgia, but all the folks from that area identify with it—perfect example, the country duo Florida-Georgia Line currently has a #1 hit titled “Dirt” about this very red clay. It’s a part of the cultural fabric.
It’s also Southern in its ingredients. The South’s cuisine is really the only identifiable cuisine in our country, and two mainstays are hot sauce and bourbon. With the peppers being fermented in bourbon barrels, the sauce is a harmonious combination of southern flavors, thus “The Taste of the South.”
Last, it is produced with an eye towards tradition. As Southerners, we are tied to our past and have an appreciation for values that bind us to it. Working with our hands and a connection to the farmland are both staples of our region, and Red Cay Hot Sauce is produced the same way.
As a hot sauce expert and chef what is your favorite food to eat with hot sauce on it?
I literally use this as my seasoning along with salt. It’s a well-balanced heat, so I pour it on eggs and hashbrowns, grits, sandwiches, tacos, fried food, pizza, wings, and seafood. Literally, most everything but dessert!
If your hot sauce had a theme song what would it be?
Probably the aforementioned “Dirt.” Those guys nailed it. When I hear it, I think about growing up and traveling all around south Georgia. From the Flint River to my great grandparent’s 1300 acre farm, I can see the landscapes in my mind. From this, Red Clay Hot Sauce was born, so it’s a natural fit.
Where do you go for food inspiration?
To the source. I love walking the rows in a field or wading through the marsh of tidal creek. What grows together goes together, and for me, being in the elements is the best way to achieve mental clarity and creative inspiration.
Top five place to eat in NYC and Charleston? And when can we expect Red Clay on tables in NY?
NYC (and around):
Blue Hill at Stone Barns: I did a week long stagiere out there and loved it. Here, Dan Barber’s vision and intelligence is tangible. The meal was wonderful, and the place as a whole is inspirational.
Peasant: I loved the honest cooking of this place.
Soto: The technical precision of the man himself left me in awe.
Tomato Shed Café: The storefront outlet of a local farm, it’s the perfect place to wind down for a meal.
Leon’s: Incredible fried chicken brings them in and the vegetable and salad offerings keep folks coming back.
Wild Olive: Solid, consistently delicious tucked away on John’s Island. A favorite amongst industry folks.
Bowens Island/Fish Net Café: The new Bowens is built upon the old cinder block foundation that survived the fire and is a bit flashier, but the views are breathtaking and the oysters are coming out of those very waters. The Fish Net is in an old gas station and is no frills—get the Jesus Crab!
Hopefully Red Clay Hot Sauce will be in NYC soon! If you have any specialty food stores or restaurants in mind, send your suggestions my way!