Entrepreneur Interview: Adam Ross, Co-Founder at Apinya

by Jordan Anthony-Brown, special to Edible DC Apinya

Editor’s Note: This is the complete interview that was excerpted in the Early Winter/Holiday 2014 issue of Edible DC: “Getting Saucy with UncleBrutha and Apinya”, page 32

Sometimes, a great product comes to life through ordinary means, as did Apinya Thai Food Co., created and owned by husband and wife team Adam and Apinya Ross. “Since we met in 2011, we’ve taken turns cooking dinner, with Apinya typically making food from Issan – the Northeast Thailand region where she grew up,” says Adam. “One night, she made a dipping sauce from ginger, garlic, chilies, vinegar, and soybean paste. It was a perfectly balanced combination of salty, sour, sweet, and spicy. It had to be shared.”

The couple immediately started bottling the original Thai Chili Sauce in their kitchen, looking to pass it out to friends and seek feedback. Over the next 8 months, Adam and Apinya worked with 36 different ingredient combinations and 68 test batches to evolve the original iteration, while maintaining the balance, heat, and adherence to Thai flavors. Finally, in October 2012, the two were able to find a commercial kitchen and cook up the first retail batch, combining experience and knowledge to transform their work into a passion. “Apinya worked in her mom’s restaurant in Thailand for almost 20 years, and I had a background as a graphic designer in brand development. It didn’t take a second thought to combine our talents into a business. Neither of us would have guessed that this is what we would be doing, but it really has become our passion.”

However, one sauce wasn’t enough. After receiving praise for the original Thai Chili Sauce, they wanted to make more flavors, but looked to concentrate on unique ones. “We weren’t interested in filling Thai food clichés like ‘sweet chili sauce’ or ‘peanut sauce.’ Nor did we want to make them vinegar-based like so many other hot sauces. We wanted to make hot sauce, not hot vinegar,” says Adam.

The challenge was to find the right ingredient and flavor pairings to make the sauces work. To do so, Adam and Apinya took a methodical approach, making a chart of every ingredient used in Thai cooking. “We bought dozens of unusual spices and vegetables we’d never heard of or seen, just to taste them for the first time,” says Adam. After months of experimentation, they arrived at the conclusion that every sauce had to include Thai chilies, as they had more heat that jalapenos, and tied all the sauces together. By June 2014, Apinya Thai Food Co. boasted five distinct sauces: Thai Basil Aji (inspired by Peruvian aji verde salsa), Coconut Harissa, Ghost Vindaloo (which includes bhut jolokia chilies, one of the hottest varieties in the world), Pumpkin Panang, and the original Thai Chili Sauce.

Rather than saying that the sauces “are good on everything,” Adam prefers to focus on the fact that each one has its strengths. “The original Thai Chili Sauce is good with seafood and fish, primarily because of the ginger. The Thai Basil Aji, however, is great on chicken and veggies. The Coconut Harissa is a great substitute for barbecue sauce because it carries a similar sweetness and smokiness, along with other flavors, and we love the Pumpkin Panang with deli sandwiches because of its tanginess. And finally, the Ghost Vindaloo pairs well with lamb and tomato-based dishes.” And though designed as and intended to be used as condiments, Adam does hear of customers using them in other ways, such for marinades and stir-fry. “If you use them for other applications, we’d recommend diluting them with coconut milk or a soup stock, and adding soy sauce or salt.”

Find out more about Apinya products at http://www.apinya.co/.