Take onions, for example: Mother Hank’s Hot Sauce

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Once again, the objective reality of this story is fuzzy. Accuracy, personal attributes, and specific details have been swapped around to suit my fancy. So if you’re looking for the absolute truth, talk to Gordon.

The battle lines were drawn—you had to choose a side. When the Harlows took over management (heels firmly dug in), they were determined to avoid bankruptcy, bring Sound Food into solvency, project a tidier, straighter image, and attract customers who didn’t change the baby on the dining room table. Jeffrey, comfortable with his role as artistic director and all-around tribal leader, was just as determined to teach his staff professional culinary techniques, find regional produce, and use ingredients no one had ever heard of.


Jesus Barn



Billy, Jim, and Jack

They wrangled over the merits of the Rykoff man’s frozen, hamburger patties over Don & Joe’s bulk ground beef, Muzak instead of  live music, whether to serve side salads with in-house croutons or sunflower seeds, the virtues of paper vs. cloth napkins, flowers on the tables, one-ply or two-ply in the restrooms, and… onions. The kitchen went through at least 50 pounds of Walla Walla Sweet onions, 15 pounds of yellows, and 10 pounds of reds a week. The Walla Wallas were trimmed, cut end to end, peeled, and thinly sliced (vertically) for French Onion Soup and chopped for Mother Hank’s Hot Sauce; the yellows were trimmed, cut end to end, peeled and diced for soups, stews, and spaghetti sauce; the reds were peeled, trimmed, and sliced (on a #2) for hamburgers and sandwiches and finely diced for salsa. 

Jeffrey believed that the quality of any dish depended on the cook’s close attention to every detail and her use of good knife techniques. Take onions, for example: using a stainless steel knife (never a carbon steel blade), trim the end opposite the roots, cut the onion in half end to end, peel, lay the flat end of the onion on the cutting board, make horizontal slices through the onion stopping just before the root end, make narrow, vertical cuts side-to-side, square up the onion half, and dice into identically square pieces appropriate to the dish. French onion soup—thinly sliced (vertically), julienne-style; soup of the day—each ingredient should fit in the bowl of a spoon; stew—1/4-1/2” squares the same size as the root vegetables; salsa—square-cut in a fine dice; spaghetti sauce—diced to the size of the crumbled ground beef so as to “melt into the mixture.” 

Jeffrey confronted haphazard knife skills head on with sharp words. (This prepared me for the yelling and screaming of future Chefs who shared similar onion specifications.) Bruce, always on the alert for money-saving measures, scoffed at that waste of time and money. “An onion is an onion. Buy 100 pounds of yellows a week at half the price, throw them in that Hobart attachment thing I just bought from the Rykoff man, and move on!” So, if Jeffrey had you in the back prepping onions, you kept one eye out and had the Hobart set up just in case. 

So, the days of smoking weed behind the dumpster, making out in the walk-in, leading a dance-in during brunch, bringing your dog to work, wearing your skirt too short or too long, and letting your hair fly free were over. It was 1978 and the summer of love was long gone. A Californian had come into the blue haze of peace and love, offering the Tribe stability, heath insurance, and a Minglement discount. Island jobs were scarce and there were mouths to feed, so most members stayed the course. A few escaped: there was one with pigtails and overalls who hitchhiked into Seattle and left on a Green Tortoise bus, a couple and their parrot who moved to Bisbee, AZ, a baker who went back into the Forest Service to fight fires, a manager who opened a tea shop in Thailand, and a night cook who followed her sweetie to LA. 

For those that stayed behind, Gordon and Mary were there to console them. 

Mother Hank’s Hot Sauce

  • 4# Roma tomatoes or 2 large cans diced-in juice tomatoes
  • 1⁄2 red onion
  • 1⁄2 Serrano
  • 1⁄2 green pepper
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1 bunch cilantro (cut off just below the leaves)
  • 1 small can tomato juice 
  • 1/2 t. cumin
  • 3 shakes of Tabasco
  • 2 t. salt
  • juice of three limes

Fine dice or Cuisinart onion, drain, and separately. You want the onions to be fine, but don’t want the onion juice to overpower the salsa. 

Grind remaining ingredients in the Hobart or a Kitchen Aid food grinder.

Stir in chopped onion. For more hotness, you can add some canned chipotles in sauce (a must-have for every pantry).

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1 Response to Take onions, for example: Mother Hank’s Hot Sauce

  1. Bridget says:

    My Sound Food memories are comprised of you letting me help you cut up veggies in the kitchen, and Jon and I playing in the backyard of the restaurant while you worked. I had my first taste of alphalfa sprouts there. I loved reading the back story to that place that holds such fond memories for me.
    Very helpful video on how to properly cut an onion too. Thanks, Mom!

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