Mealtime around a firehouse table is generally a communally boisterous and often, dare it be said, a braggadocious affair with plenty of good-natured chiding and throwing down of gauntlets. Chili cook-offs are de rigeur for engine companies from Terre Haute to Topeka and winning rib recipe titles are fiercely defended and disputed. Firefighters love their grub big and bold and just like in the line of duty…the hotter the better.
That being said, chile sauces are a natural accompaniment to many a firehouse condiment bar. As a matter of fact, there is quite possibly an unwritten rule demanding their presence.
Lee Taylor, the founder of Palo Alto Firefighters and bonafide chile sauce rule upholder, first started making his original pepper sauce in 1994 using peppers he sourced locally. Very locally.
Lee had planted some pepper seeds behind the station and due to a sunny summer (and what some may call a “red-hot green thumb”) the peppers went nuts. He blended-up a batch of personal-recipe sauce for his co-workers, friends and family and a lo-and-behold, Lee became a small-batch pepper sauce artisan. He crafted for personal use for 11 years, then in 2005 the sauce was bottled for the the enjoyment of zesty pepper-sauce lovers at-large. No longer from the back yard of the fire-station, but the recipe stayed the same.
“It goes great on almost everything, but most popular on breakfast burritos, grilled chicken and ribs, or something as simple as mashing it together with an avocado for simple guacamole,” said Erik Taylor, Lee’s also-firefighting and pepper-loving son. “I’ve even had people tell me they have put it on oatmeal.”
Lee is the founder and chairman of the board of the Palo Alto Firefighters Charitable Fund and 100 percent of profits from the sales of Palo Alto Firefighters hot sauces gets donated to the multi-faceted fund. Proceeds go to a variety charities like the Ronald McDonald House and the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation and a host of college-bound students are awarded scholarships that come from the sales of the deliciously tangy chile-spiked sauce.
The foundation website is the site for the charity with much more detailed information as well as links to where to buy the goods. The piquant pepper condiment comes in a variety of heat levels and is available at dozens of retail locations such as Whole Foods, Andronico’s, Nugget Markets, Lunardi’s and Mollie Stone’s.
Palo Alto Firefighters Pepper sauce is now in its second generation and a complete family affair with Erik as the Operations Manager, and sister Stephanie in Account Services.
“We just released our third flavor, XXX Ghost in December of 2015. It was my first chance to make a hot sauce of my own,” Taylor said. “I’ve always wanted it hotter than my dad’s XX Habanero but wanted to keep the concept of more flavor than heat while making a sauce that has a much different taste to it. I stayed in line with zero sodium as well. My sister and I will continue dad’s mission of maintaining our non-profit status.”
The story of Lee Taylor planting some pepper seeds in the fire station yard one hot summer and making a mission out of the bounty is a great one. A blend of family, heart and philanthropy– and a smokin’ good hot sauce.
To grab a few bottles of sauce, visit the official Palo Alto Firefighter’s website.