The president of one of New Jersey's largest universities doesn't need a recipe to craft some of the hottest sauces around, the profits of which go toward an emergency scholarship fund for students.
Instead, Ali Houshmand of Rowan University took an idea from the garden to his kitchen to kick-start his signature line of hot sauces, which has raised almost $20,000 for Rowan's Student Scholarship Fund.
"I never believed in written recipes. … It has to come from here, and from here," he said, pointing from his head to his heart.
Gardening is a hobby for Houshmand, who initially grew hot peppers just for fun. He created a few batches of hot sauce and gave out small jars to friends and family, concocting the sauces outside or in his garage because the fumes made it difficult to breathe in the house.
"In terms of cooking this, [my wife] was never pleased because I ruined the dishes — and she couldn't breathe," he said.
Sometime later, a few bottles were auctioned off at a holiday fund-raising event. They were so popular that he decided to kick production up a notch.
Beginning with a greenhouse on campus that he would visit daily to water and tend to his peppers, Houshmand went on to collaborate with the Rutgers Food Innovation Center in Bridgeton, which helped him create the three flavors of Houshmand's Hazardous Hot Sauce sold today.
The tuition fund created from the profits of his labors is in place to help students in need of financial aid for whatever reason – if a parent loses a job or if a student could not qualify for a needed loan – to prevent a gap or even an end to a student's education.
"I think it's a very worthy thing to do," he said. "Because the alternative to that is that if that person cannot secure that different fund and drops out of school, who knows where their life will end?"
The hot sauce is available in three different heat ranges, beginning with the mildest, Ali's Nasty.
The medium sauce – Nastylicious – is Houshmand's favorite.
Made with a blend of habanero, long hot, and beaver dam peppers, it hits the palate with an initial sweetness before the intense kick creeps in.
He first thought of the name Nastylicious at the end of his first marathon in the early 1990s, not intending to use it to brand hot sauce at the time but to describe a feeling of something that "is hurtful but enjoyable."
He finished the marathon shaking, exhausted, and worn down from the freezing weather, "but as soon as that shaking stopped, it was like the greatest accomplishment of my entire life … and I called it a 'nastylicious' experience."
The hottest blend, "Nastyvicious," is currently on a waiting list for those brave enough to try it, boasting a blend of some of the world's hottest peppers, including habaneros, scotch bonnets, ghost peppers, and Carolina reapers.
Houshmand hopes to draw a larger crowd of hot-sauce enthusiasts to campus after the success of recent contests, such as the "Wing Wars" challenge at Chickie's & Pete's Sports Bar & Crab House and a cook-off at Landmark Americana — both in Rowan's hometown of Glassboro — which incorporated Houshmand's Hazardous Hot Sauce into the lineup.
"The fact that students recognize that people in here do care, and they genuinely do — I think that's important," he said. "So yes, it's a thousand dollars here or $2,000 over there, but the impact to the recipient is enormous."