It all started with Brennan Proctor's attempts to make really hot chicken wings that also had plenty of flavor.
The quest began 15 years ago and was rewarded last month when his Uncle Brutha's Gourmet Hot Sauce Fire Sauce No. 10 won a second place in the Fiery Foods Challenge, the Oscars of chili pepperdom, at the Zestfest 2004 trade show in Fort Worth.
The award has helped put Uncle Brutha's products on the culinary map in what seems a sea of hot sauces: More than 800 competed in the contest.
"I'm just amazed. I'm still not used to having total strangers react so much to my sauce," Proctor, 41, said recently as he sat in his distinctive Uncle Brutha's van in the parking lot of a store in Lexington, Ky.
He had stopped there to leave some samples of the sauce, and before he could get out of the parking lot to resume driving to his home in the District, the store owners were chasing him down to stock up on his products: the No. 10 sauce, which is red, and its companion No. 9 sauce, which is green.
In the world of chilies, hot sauces are usually rated on a heat scale of 1 to 10. These days there is also a 10-plus category.
Proctor's Zestfest award came in the category of "Habanero No Extract."
Unlike many hot sauces, which depend on chili extracts to punch up the heat numbers, Uncle Brutha's is made exclusively with whole chilies -- very hot whole chilies.
In the bottle, the sauces look rather like finely ground salsas, with bits of chilies and chili seeds clearly evident. But you don't even have to taste the sauces to know they are fiery: Twist off the cap and your eyes might start to water.
The taste is incendiary, but it's not just hot; it is flavorful.
Most weekends, Proctor is at the District's Eastern Market, near the entrance at Seventh Street and North Carolina SE, selling his sauces, which also are available at several stores in Prince George's and Montgomery counties.
Proctor said he was living in Virginia around 1989 when he was asked to take hot wings to a potluck supper with friends who were fledgling hot wing connoisseurs.
He wasn't satisfied with any commercial sauce, so he combined a few. Soon he was mixing his own hot sauce ingredients.
He moved to Los Angeles in 1991 and worked in the music industry, most recently doing the sound for music videos. He became well known for his wings. "I was getting asked to all kinds of parties and events with my hot wings," Proctor said.
Disillusioned with the direction of the music video business, Proctor decided to concentrate on his hot sauce.
When other financing plans fell through, he sold his California home to get money for his business. He moved to Washington in November.
The first commercial batches of Uncle Brutha's, 150 gallons of each sauce, were produced at an Albuquerque company in September 2003 under Proctor's direction. There have been several production runs since then.
With help from the Maryland Small Business Development Center, Proctor has spent the last year publicizing and marketing his sauces.
The business has a College Park mailing address, but Proctor said his office is mostly "virtual."
His product is stored in New Mexico and Rockville.
The sauces cost $4.99 for the No. 9 and $5.19 for the No. 10. The packaging includes recipes, but Proctor's hot wing recipe isn't among them.
Here are the general directions: Toss fresh chicken wings with McCormick/Schilling all-purpose seasoned salt and garlic powder until they are well coated. Place the wings on baking pans and cook in a very hot oven (use the broil setting) until the wings are crisp, about 45 minutes. Then toss the wings in the No. 10 sauce, coating them lightly.
Proctor said the fat from the wings renders as the chicken cooks, eliminating the need for additional oil. He said getting the skin crisp is a key to good wings. "The rest is in the sauce."
Uncle Brutha Gourmet Foods www.unclebrutha.com. 800-374-5240. Sauces are available at the Takoma Park Co-op, Glut Food Co-op in Mount Rainier, Market Poultry at Eastern Market and B&B Southern Barbecue in Laurel.
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