WAPPINGERS FALLS, N.Y. -- When it comes to chicken wings, "too hot" is not a term you'll hear around AJ Cafe in Wappingers Falls. There's no such thing.
It began innocently enough three years ago, with husband and wife owners John and Angela Joy working with Head Chef Jeff Fairhurst. The three were looking to taste test and finalize the menu for AJ Cafe before they opened for business.
"We'd taste test stuff on our friends, and we had settled on what our hot and mild sauce for the wings should taste like," said John. "But after about a week of being open, I couldn't tell you how many people thought our mild was too hot. Jeff and I looked at each other and thought there might be something wrong with us."
"People thought our mild was too hot."
And so they got serious. Seriously competitive.
The Joys and Fairhurst entered their first tongue-torching hot sauce in a local competition in 2015. It was an Asian-style creation affectionately known as "Ninja Assassin" that was beaten out by another local competitor.
"That one made me mad," said John. "I knew mine were hotter, so it put a pretty big chip on my shoulder."
Since then, the idea of bringing the heat to the chicken wing world has become a collaborative game of "Can You Top This?" for the team at AJ Cafe.
"I grow my own Carolina reaper peppers. I love the hottest stuff you can possibly imagine," explained John.
"I stalk websites. Some of the stuff only comes out once a year. I buy it and keep it 'til it's time to make the sauce."
The team introduced its "Euthanasia" sauce in 2016 in an effort to go beyond where other hot sauces have left off and leave local competitors behind.
So far, mission accomplished. The cafe took home the prize for the hottest wings at the Hudson Valley Wing Fest last January.
And there's more to come. AJ Cafe will bring a newer, hotter version of the Euthanasia sauce to Hudson Valley Wing Wars at the Motorcyclepedia Museum in Newburgh from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26.
As for what his latest creation may be, John will only reveal this: They start with their regular hot sauce as a base, take everything that cooled it down out, and add extracts and ingredients to make a sauce so hot, it might just make you angry.
"I get people that curse us out," he said. "Jeff and I just high five. It's the best accomplishment when you make a sauce like that. I want people to hate me."
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