Celebrating Scott Moritz: Our founder left us too soon, but his signature style lives on at Secret Aardvark.
The Birth of an Obsession
Scott Moritz was a surfer, musician, storyteller, and lover of food (tacos!) and flavors (spice!). But perhaps his greatest gift was his curious and quirky mind, which inspired him to create unexpected culinary mashups… plus a certain oddly-named hot sauce company.
Scott grew up in Southern California and loved to take trips to Mexico, where he would devour as many different street cart tacos as he could find. But other ingredients aside, what really turned Scott on about tacos was, you guessed it, the sauce.
While hot sauces back home tended to lead with water, salt, and vinegar, he was fascinated by the surprising variety of flavors he was experiencing south of the border – the seemingly endless combinations of peppers, herbs, and spices.
His quest for flavor led him on further travels, to Costa Rica, the Caribbean, and beyond. He’d sample local hot sauces and marvel at their uniqueness. Then, he’d return home and wonder how he might create something completely unexpected himself. An obsession was born.
Taking it to the Street
Scott’s love of spicy street food led to him launch a popular tamale street cart in Portland in the early ‘90s. We’re talking way before food carts became a thing. He gained an avid following by rolling up to local farmer’s markets with his signature tamales. They were such a hit he and a partner soon opened much-beloved Portland restaurant Salvador Molly’s to showcase Scott’s tropical- and Caribbean-inspired recipes.
Molly’s became Scott’s living laboratory, and his epicurean experiments, which – putting him again ahead of his time – focused on flavor fusions.
Back in the ‘90s, you didn’t see mashups like Kahlua Pork. You didn’t see tacos with pink pickled onions on top.
And you certainly didn’t see calamari steaks, black beans, sticky rice, crema, Romanesco, fried tortillas, and, yep, pink pickled onions coming together in a dish like the one Scott once assembled as an “apology” meal for a friend.
(How did it go? Let’s just say he was quickly forgiven).
Trashing Kitchens, One Experiment at a Time
Back in the day, if you happened to pass Scott driving on the freeway, he was likely to be in the right lane going 40 mph, chin scratching and completely lost in thought, conceiving his next off-the-wall culinary concoction.
But despite the rousing success of Salvador Molly’s, creating the perfect hot sauce was a fixation Scott just couldn’t shake. So, he left the restaurant business to focus on his dream full-time.
The ingredients started flying…literally. Like, all over the kitchen (to hear Scott’s then-wife Stacy Moritz tell it, anyway). He left no holds barred (or countertops clean) as he pulled in an endless parade of ingredients, eager to capture a perfect balance of flavor and heat – plus that essential something unexpected that was the hallmark of favorite sauces from his travels.
Letting the Aardvark Outta the Bag
Persistence (with a hefty dose of mad genius) paid off when, in 2004, a perfect storm of peppers, tomatoes, carrots, habaneros, onions, and vinegar came together into Scott’s signature Habanero Hot Sauce blend. Secret Aardvark Trading Company was born.
So, now to the question on everybody’s mind: Why in the world name the company “Secret Aardvark”?
First, the answer is not that our sauces contain actual aardvark. (And, yes, this is an honest-to-gosh question we’re frequently asked). Set your worries aside. No aardvarks are harmed in the making of our sauce.
In fact, the name started from something almost as silly: a teenage prank.
Scott and some school buddies read an article in the local newspaper with some preposterous and ultra-stereotypical tips on “Nine Ways to Identify a Gang.”
They chose to strike back with a “cautionary” letter to the editor declaring themselves a dangerous new gang called the “Secret Aardvarks” (aardvarks were Scott’s favorite animal, after all). They were so convincing, the paper published the letter as fact – and Scott’s career as a gangster was born.
Okay, not really. But he later decided it was the perfect name to give his non-traditional hot sauce brand that wasn’t afraid to be a little bit weird and stand out from the pack.
The Secret Lives On
Scott’s adventures ended far too soon when we lost him to pancreatic cancer in 2009 at the age of 43. But his influence still lives on at Secret Aardvark.
Any time we set out to create a new sauce, we start by pulling out all the stops and asking ourselves, “What would Scott do?” Then, we train our eyes on something fiery, delicious, and unexpectedly inspired.
And before we do just about anything else, we put on the irreverent lens that Scott used to view the world. In other words, we do it Secret Aardvark-style.
While we call Portland home, our sauces continue to be inspired by all corners of the globe, bringing the best (and most flavorful) ingredients together in our recipes. And as we grow, we’ll always continue to ask ourselves how we can continue to push the boundaries and do our part to make the world a better, happier, and weirder place than it was before.
P.S. And, since we mentioned pink pickled onions, here’s a Moritz-family, Salvador Molly-inspired Drunken Jerk Taco recipe that includes the formula to make them and plop them on your next taco. No secret decoder ring required.