Searing Red Dust (The Vanishing Huy Fong Foods Cookbook), 2014
Unique cookbook of unfixed Inkodye prints within a clamshell box.
“[Judge Robert] O’Brien acknowledged in his ruling that there was a ‘lack of credible evidence’ that health problems have resulted from the odor, as residents claim, but said that the smell seemed to be ‘extremely annoying, irritating and offensive to the senses warranting consideration as a public nuisance.’” — Sriracha plant must cease operations that cause odors, judge rules, Frank Shyong, LA Times, November 26th, 2013.
Realized for LA Heat at the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles, this one-off cookbook contains Sriracha-inspired recipes contributed by Angeleno chefs. The enclosed, looseleaf recipes were printed with a UV light-sensitive ink and left unfixed, meaning that every time a reader opened the box to view the recipes, the prints continued to expose and darken. Readers were encouraged to transcribe or photograph the recipes as they were only viewable, on site, for the duration of the exhibition. Over the four-month run of the show half of the pages were stolen and then replaced.
As the exhibition closed, the project was adapted for the pages and cover of VIA Publication, Issue 03. Each recipe was cooked, scanned, and printed life-size for the reader. The following statement concluded the five-page parade of dishes…
Searing Red Dust (The Vanishing Huy Fong Foods Cookbook) is a collection of seven recipes, contributed by local chefs in response to the Huy Fong Foods signature condiment, Sriracha. This project emerges at the tail end of a near yearlong lawsuit filed by the city of Irwindale, California that catapulted, in diverse and unprecedented ways, the condiment into public spotlight.
In October of 2013, the City of Irwindale filed a lawsuit of public nuisance against Huy Fong Foods, Inc., for emitting clouds of “searing red dust” during the peak pepper-grinding season. Local residents reported burning eyes and throats so bad, they had to stay inside their houses. In May of 2014, the lawsuit was dropped. Only recently, after local and county government representatives visited the factory and saw the efforts that CEO and Founder David Tran had made to improve the air filtration system, they felt comfortable moving forward as collaborators rather than adversaries. “We’re almost sorry that this has gone on so long,” Irwindale Mayor Mark Breceda announced on May 27th.
This collection of contact-scan photographs and accompanying cookbook emerge from a collision of global adoration and local aggression surrounding the (in)famous condiment. For many, Sriracha occupies a savored spot on kitchen shelves and cafe tables. It is a valued ingredient used on a range of culturally diverse comfort foods. Over the last year, a Sriracha festival, a nationally reported museum exhibition, and a cable TV special have validated an entrenched fandom and prevelant material culture surrounding the condiment. Though as the lawsuit testifies, such scales of spiciness production are not without physical and psychological antagonisms. I did not appropriate the term “searing red dust” for my project to satirize its use by an Irwindale resident. Rather, this gesture counters the condiment’s symbolic value with a documented sensory assault of spice particles entering in through eyes, mouth and nose.
Using my kitchen and a flatbed scanner-as-camera, I’ve introduced these dishes from a plate’s perspective. Sitting on glass, Kuniko’s soy-braised potato and Wes’s chili negro slump with weight and heft. These images give a form that is both seen and felt to contributions from local chefs that have creatively responded to Sriracha. The sensing body becomes a means to engage with the photographs, an instigator for the project, and most assuredly, a primary component within the Irwindale–Huy Fong Foods, Inc. lawsuit.
Recipe contributions by Matthew Biancaniello (Eat Your Drink), Kuniko Yagi (Hinoki & the Bird), Jack Benchakul (Cognoscenti Coffee), Wes Avila (Guerrilla Tacos), Randy Clemens (The Sriracha Cookbook), and Natasha Case & Freya Estreller (Coolhaus). Project sponsorship by Lumi.