Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012 | 6:16 p.m.
Sir Kensington is the Chuck Norris of condiments. The flipbook for the cartoon lord’s gourmet scooping ketchup features several Kensingtonisms, including “Sir Kensington does not domesticate animals. He joins feral ones for wild adventures.”
The NYC-based brand’s cheeky, spicy spirit is an extension of the sauce—an artisanal alternative to the dominant (and almost interchangeable) offerings you find at most grocery stores. Founders Mark Ramadan and Scott Norton met in college, and a conversation about endless variety in mustard turned to one about utter lack in ketchup.
Here in Vegas, Sir Kensington’s classic and spiced ($5.99) are available at Whole Foods and Artisanal Foods (coming soon to the Cosmo). The bold flavors and fresh texture derive from vine-ripened pear tomatoes and tomato paste, honey, agave nectar, raw sugar, apple cider vinegar, lime, diced onions and spices ranging from coriander to cayenne. As Sir Kensington says: “High fructose corn syrup? Don’t make me scoff.” For a few things Norton says, read on, brave ketchup scoopers.
How did you and Mark come together to reinvent America’s favorite sauce? (I refuse to believe ranch dressing is No. 1).
Mark and I met at Brown, where we took economics classes together. We both love food and we both love building things, so we always bounced ideas off each other. One day, we began talking about condiments, and how in mustard there is so much choice in variety, though in ketchup, there’s very, very little. The few choices there are even come in the same squeeze bottle and have the same ingredients. This made us very curious, so we started making ketchup in our kitchen. We made eight different varieties that we felt were interesting, and slipped invitations in our friends’ mailboxes welcoming them to Sir Kensington’s Ketchup tasting party. They came and rated each ketchup on a number of metrics. The top were are our current flavors, classic and spiced.
Is there a good story behind the concocting process? Was it more difficult than you thought to settle on a recipe that tasted right and also worked in big-batch production?
When we started making it in our kitchen, we first had to teach ourselves the hot-filling process for cooking and packaging ketchup in glass jars. We would cook for hours on end, and the ketchup would splatter everywhere, even on us, burning us and giving what we called “Kensington Kisses”—then we would take the big pots of ketchup and pour them into jars by hand, sealing them quickly and letting the cooling process create a vacuum seal. It began with trial and error, though we got it down to a rhythm. Since then, we've been producing at a commercial kitchen, though refining the recipe there took months and months of samples and experimentation. Ketchup is a very difficult product to make, as it requires balance to truly taste like ketchup. Ketchup is one of the few foods which has all five tastes—sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and savory (umami)—if any of those are off, it will taste out of balance. Even now, we’re always listening to what people say to evolve the sauce to perfection.
Did you have a mustache before Sir Kensington came to life on paper?
Sir Kensington’s mustache predated mine! We settled on the mustache as a brand emblem because of its sense of history, tongue-in-cheekness, and connection with chefs.
What is the price compared to the big dogs, and what argument would you make to the average person—not a chef, not necessarily a foodie, just someone who loves ketchup on French fries, burgers and breakfast food—to switch?
Our price in retail is $5.99, whereas typical Heinz is $1.99, and Heinz organic is $2.99. Our perspective is that a few extra dollars is very little to pay for a product which will last weeks and can accompany many different types of meals. For the average person, this is a ketchup which has half the sugar and half the sodium of a typical ketchup, so not only does it offer a bolder taste and texture, but it is a more considerate choice from a health perspective.
Do you have any plans to save other condiments from mediocrity, if the ketchup continues to do well?
Let's just say there are things deep in the laboratory. We will not release a product unless we feel it brings true innovation and choice to the market, which makes something like mustard implicitly challenging, though there are certainly others which have more opportunity.
Red Deviled Moons
2 tbs mayonnaise
1 tbs Sir Kensington's spiced
finely diced bread & butter pickle chips
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
Method: Hard boil eggs for at least 10 minutes. Drain eggs and cool submerged in cold water for 10 minutes. Carefully crack open and peel eggs. Slice eggs in half lengthwise, separating yolks. Add mayonnaise, Sir Kensington’s spiced, and diced pickles to the yolks and mash until consistent. Add salt and pepper to taste, remembering that it should be a little on the salty side to flavor the egg whites. Scoop or pipe the filling into the empty whites. You can cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for up to a day, but bring slightly to room temperature before enjoying!
2 oz tequila
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
2 dashes Worcestershire
2 squirts Sriracha
2 bar spoons Sir Kensington’s spiced
A cheeky dollop of horseradish
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Method: Shake and strain into a Collins glass on the rocks. (Optional, for the bold) hold an upside-down spoon over the glass and slowly pour over a dab of mezcal to float on top and liven the drink with a smoky aroma. Garnish with a lime wheel and celery stick. Alternatively premix a batch of the non-alcoholic ingredients and mix with tequila to taste.