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Two decades ago, a 49-year-old widower who owned a noodle shop in Guiyang, China started making her own chile oil for customers to dollop atop their bowls. Soon after she noticed the spicy, crunchy condiment was more popular than the noodles themselves and changed course. Tao Huabi started bottling her sauce under the name Lao Gan Ma, or “old godmother” (the nickname given to her by neighborhood kids), and eventually that little food company grew, turning her into a self-made billionaire.
Young chef Max Boonthanakit fell in love with chile crips, the condiment Huabi spawned. But as he progressed in his culinary career, this 28-year-old who has worked in outstanding LA kitchens, including Mei Lin’s Nightshade, Jon Yao’s Kato and Michael Voltaggio’s Ink, along with time abroad at Gaggan and Relae, felt he could make a better chile crisp himself. Boon Sauce was born.
Boonthanakit’s version is made from sunflower oil, shallot, garlic, chili, anchovy, fennel seed prickly ash, salt and sugar. Since procuring my jar—the fifth batch he’s sold—I’ve been putting it on a lot of different dishes from roasted vegetables to pizza. On a recent night it was the perfect accent to chicken congee, providing a deep bass note of flavor to the bowl, while definitely adding some heat—but not the melt your face off kind. The sensation you get is a full-mouth warming without a painfully acute edge.
Though he has moved to Bangkok to become the head pastry chef at the new Blue by Alain Ducasse, you can still get Boon Sauce on his site. But you better hop on it before Batch #5 sells out.