Lopez Island is a small island in Washington state’s San Juan Islands. It’s beautiful and quiet – the perfect kind of sleepy when I need to disappear for a bit. The small village has plenty of restaurants and stores to get me by and the island is filled with gorgeous places to explore. And, the larger, busier islands, like Orcas and San Juan, are a short ferry ride away.
On a recent trip to Lopez, we stopped at a small eatery in the main village. I ordered a smoked salmon wrap. The condiment table near the pickup window had a few bottles of no-name sauce. I grabbed one of them assuming it was some kind of barbecue sauce and poured a few dabs onto my plate. That first taste of the sauce was pretty f*@king delicious.
Have you ever gone to take a drink, thinking you’re going to taste one thing, but your taste buds are jarred by something else? Our brains quickly recover but there’s a moment when thoughts are temporarily derailed. That’s what that first glorious bite was like – confusing and satisfying. I got the details about the sauce from the server. She told me where to buy it in the Village. I remember feeling like I had discovered a secret. And this one needs to be shared.
The sauce in that no-name bottle was Chicaoji (chick-ow-jee) chili sauce. It’s a unique blend of smokey heat, sweet, and salty goodness. I love hot sauce. But this stuff is different. A lot of sauces add flavor to food, but they can also dominate my palette with heat, even in small amounts. But Chicaoji manages to compliment food. It elevates and enhances flavors. My wife is not a fan of spicy foods and even she loves Chicaoji.
The sauce’s name comes from a combination of its major ingredients – chipotles, cacao, and goji berries. The color is a deep brown with a red hue and it pours on thick.
Chicaoji is great on meat, fish, vegetables and pastas, but my favorite pairing is with scrambled eggs – a breakfast staple in my house.
Subscribe for More Wild Human Stories
Lopez Island resident Randall Waugh started working on the sauce in 2007 after a friend gave him goji berries and cacao nibs as a snack.
“My first thought was Wow, That’s really good but it sure could use just a little spicy heat. I walked from my friend’s place across a field to Blossom Organic Grocery and bought some of ever kind of dried of chile peppers they had in stock, some goji berries, and some raw cacao nibs. I took them home and started playing with the blender.”
Throughout the summer, Randall developed different flavor combinations and shared them with his friends and neighbors on Lopez Island. The community helped guide him to the magic that is Chicaoji sauce.
On the Chicaoji website there’s a lengthy explanation of Randall’s approach to sourcing ingredients and supporting his community. I read every word. Randall writes that food is medicine. He’s likely referring to the actual benefits of putting healthy ingredients in your body, but I also think he’s applying that idea to our hearts and brains. Food brings people together. The kitchen is the heart of my home. It might be for you too. Tasty food, family and friends. That’s medicine I’ll happily take.