Austin Johnson’s sauce was originally named Food Gasm.
However, the judges at the Flavor of Georgia contest found the title to be a little too provocative for a family-friendly contest.
Now branded as Sinclair’s Sauce, after Johnson’s middle name, the condiment will advance to the final round of the Flavor of Georgia contest.
“It’s going to give you a hug with the sweetness and then it’s going to kick you in the stomach with the spiciness,” Johnson said.
The sauce presents a blend of sweet and spicy with a hint of barbeque and apple.
“People are so used to eating your generic condiments, your ketchup, your mustard, your barbeque sauce, your hot sauce,” Johnson said. “So for me to bring something new to the taste pallet, [the judges] could overlook the name [Food Gasm].”
Sinclair’s Sauce is created with a diversity of ingredients such as homemade barbeque sauces, apple, vinegar, sautéed vegetables and tomato paste. It best complements fried foods, but can also be used on other dishes as well.
Johnson, a fifth year international affairs major, has been cooking since he was 12, but first began blending sauces at the start of the year. His mother and his love for barbeque and blue cheese sauce mixes inspired him to make Sinclair’s Sauce.
After a month of trial and error and testing over 100 mixtures, Johnson finally found the winner.
Well, not the winner – yet.
The Flavor of Georgia competition was created by the University’s Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development to provide publicity for participants with original food creations. The event attracts over 100 commercially-available or market-ready Georgia products each year.
Judges assess each food on a variety of criteria such as look, taste, commercial appeal, innovation and how well the product represents the state of Georgia.
“Every year, we’re just amazed at how incredible all the products are because the quality is so good,” said Sharon Kane, director of the contest.
The finalists go to Atlanta – fittingly, on the Governor’s Agriculture Awareness Day – to be scored in front of the judges. The food with the highest score is granted permission to display the Flavor of Georgia logo on their product and receives a plaque from Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and Department of Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black.
With the publicity the winner receives, there are also indirect financial benefits.
“We looked at a study last year that showed over a five year period, there was an estimated $3 million of additional revenue from the contest,” Kane said.
In the contest’s seven years of existence, the only time a University of Georgia student made it to the finals was in 2013 with Ray Joyner’s condiment named Lazy Ray’s Ketchup & Mustard.
Johnson’s condiment is one of 30 finalists picked from the 114 products entered this year. On top of this, Johnson created the sauce unaware of the contest until two days before its deadline.
“I entered into the competition not really knowing what to expect,” Johnson said. “I thought it was just your normal UGA competition – come to find out, this is the Super Bowl, this is bigger than what I expected.”
Johnson once worked in a bakery and occasionally watches culinary television, but most of his cooking talents are a result of trial-and-error rather than education.
Now, living off campus with no meal plan, Johnson cooks for himself and every day, testing new recipes and flavors.
Johnson has also created other condiments – a barbeque sauce and a mustard wasabi sauce. Due to his love of travel and his pursuit of a minor in Mandarin Chinese, he aspires to create a sauce specific to every country in the world.
His ultimate goal is to win the Flavor of Georgia contest and have Sinclair’s Sauce in restaurants and grocery stores throughout the nation.
Johnson's roommate, Christian Ausborn, also gets to enjoy the aspiring chef's work and served as a taste tester for the sauce’s hundreds of variations.
“One of the reasons why I supported his sauce was because it was him,” Ausborn said. “His sauce is pretty spectacular, it’s pretty bold. It has a bold, yet subtle flavor and Austin is kind of like that.”