So, they announced the Oscar nominees this morning. I did not get the call. I keep thinking someone is going to adapt the blog into a screenplay, but no. You can sum up the nominees by saying, “Clooney, a dog, blah, blah, blah, The Help, Woody Allen.” Everyone got that? Good. Make your selections. What we’re doing here today is something far more important. It’s a tradition that arose in the beer-soaked loft apartments of Lancaster, PA. We’re going to award the condiment of the year–2011. No supporting roles need apply. This is one trophy, everyone else goes home, just like sports.
Origins of the Award:
Awards, at least in this sense arise because a person (or group of persons) feel the need to show appreciation. Sometime during my college career I felt the need to stop taking condiments for granted. I was living in a golden age of condiments, and nowhere was this more evident than during a trip to Fuddruckers. I think Fuddruckers is a dying brand, but a decade ago it sat atop the Mount Olympus of fast-food chains. I’m not sure what their business model was–Perhaps kill them with cholesterol? And, if that failed, try condiments. The condiment bar at Fuddruckers was (is?) a celebration of excess. And, it’s all gratis. The first time you walk in and say, “Is that free hot cheese?” That’s a life-changing experience. I came from the Roy Rogers “Fixin’ Bar” School of condiments, which means I appreciate when an establishment leaves you to your own devices. This was a new level, though. The selection. The premium quality Heinz products. It was a dipper’s dream. So, living in this condiment rich environment, it only felt natural to award a Condiment of the Year to celebrate our ridiculous bounty. A short-lived tradition was born.
Past Champions: Ketchup: (1999, 2003-2006, 2009). BBQ Sauce: (2000). Caesar Dressing: (2002). Salsa: (2010). Honey Mustard: (2001, 2007-8).
- Honey Mustard
- BBQ Sauce
1. Consistency. It’s important to be able to walk into any restaurant and get the condiment you are looking for. Some yahoo back in the kitchen, mixing up his own “special sauce” can be a bad thing.
2. Versatility. You can’t be a one-trick pony. Maybe you’re a person who likes to bathe in cocktail sauce, but how often are you really using it?
3. Innovation. Has anyone breathed new life into the condiment recently? A new usage, a new flavor profile.
4. Signature Pairing. Does the condiment have one food where no other condiment can take its place? Or failing that, how many pairings does it dominate? Chips, for example, are solely salsa’s domain.
5. Current Form. Sometimes a condiment can just “get hot,” and streak to the title. See: Caesar Dressing in 2002. Caesar rarely makes the finals, but that year everything just fell into place.
5th Place: Tabasco Sauce.
This is my ode to impartiality. I am not a Tabasco Sauce user, but I don’t want to ignore its popularity. It has a very loyal fan-base. And, it’s undisputed strength is its versatility. It goes on everything. Eggs, pizza, chicken, a bloody mary–you name it. And, in recent times Tabasco has tried to broaden their appeal with hotter and milder varieties. Clearly, they weren’t going to ignore the Chipotle craze. That said, I think the Tabasco wave has crested. Never a champion, it was lucky to hold onto a top-5 spot this year.
4th Place: BBQ Sauce.
BBQ Sauce will always have credibility, because there is an entire cuisine called “BBQ.” Depending on your part of the country this means different things, but it often comes with a signature sauce. And, no condiment has benefited from the boutique sauce craze like BBQ. In my fridge right now I have a Bacon Chipotle (again) BBQ Sauce. Is it good? What do you think? Of course, it is. It’s hard to believe that at one time you’d walk into the store and it’d basically be Kraft, that fiery orange crap, or Bullseye. Now, there are 1.5 million varieties. Perhaps too many varieties? BBQ sauce has a consistency problem, and it just didn’t peak at the right time this year.
3rd Place: Ketchup.
Ketchup is like a pitcher who throws 105 miles an hour. Why bother with a little spinning breaking ball when you can just blow everyone away? The Ketchup/French Fry pairing will forever be Jordan/Pippen, Montana/Rice, Ruth/Gehrig–whatever analogy you want to make, you can’t overstate the importance of ketchup on french fries. Of course, it’s hard to dress up ketchup. You won’t be seeing Bacon-Chipotle ketchup anytime soon–I don’t think. I went to a trendy steakhouse once last year and they had cheesesteak egg rolls with a “spicy ketchup,” but that’s about as risqué as you’ll get with the godfather. I’ve got nothing bad to say about ketchup, it just wasn’t the year.
2nd Place: Salsa.
You know what’s amazing about salsa? It really isn’t bad for you! That flies in the face of more traditionalist thinkers, but the delivery system is where you get into trouble with the salsa. The chips, the quesadilla, the tacos–not that healthy. What I like about salsa is that it goes so well with cheese. Melted cheese in particular. If you’re eating something with melted cheese, there’s a decent chance it needs salsa. My main problem with salsa is chunkiness. But again, I’m trying to put aside my own beliefs. I don’t like a chunky salsa, but everyone–literally every other person alive–wants giant chunks in their salsa. I have to live with that–except when I’m eating Momma 3-Putt’s homemade picante sauce. It’s not chunky, and it’s delicious!
The 2011 Champion: Honey Mustard.
Welcome back to the winner’s circle old friend. First of all I’d like to thank Ken, Heinz and all other makers of proper honey mustard. I’d like to give a shout-out to the chicken finger. I’d like to acknowledge all the people who make their salads unhealthy by drowning them in funny mustard. What a year, what a year. The only thing holding honey mustard back from piling up even more titles is the countless number of people who don’t know how to make it. I can tell, just by looking, if a honey mustard is going to be good. And, nothing is more frustrating than getting an order of fingers with sub-par honey mustard. Inexcusable. But, I think more people are getting an understanding of what makes this condiment so delicious and we’re riding an uptick of consistency. Don’t be afraid to explore its versatility either. Last night I had a little grilled ham and cheese. What’d it need? Some Ken’s.