J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Houston APA ’14: Sriracha

Help yourself to some spicy hot and sweet entrepreneurship. When Saigon fell, the enterprisingly minded ethnic Chinese David Tran understood he had to get out of Vietnam while he still could. Arriving in America completely destitute, he would develop and market one of the most popular hot sauces going. Despite recessions and national contractions, his condiment has consistently enjoyed twenty percent annual sales growth, without any advertising. Griffin Hammond provides the commercial Tran never produced with his affectionate short documentary Sriracha (trailer here), which screens this weekend during the 2014 Houston Asian Pacific American Film Festival, following its Los Angeles premiere at the recent Dances With Films.

Sriracha is not nearly as readily available as ketchup, but if you dig it, you probably put it on everything. While Sriracha was initially embraced by the Vietnamese immigrant community, it was derived from a well known regional Thai sauce known as Sriraja Panich. It might be a Pan-Asian culinary phenomenon, but it is an American success story. Named after the Panamanian freighter that ferried Tran to America, his Huy Fong Foods Company is constantly expanding. Still run as a family business, they have one very fortunate farmer harvesting peppers round the clock for their “rooster” sauce.

Frankly, Hammond spends a little too much time explore hipster foodie love for Sriracha, but his profile of Tran is terrific and timely. Tran’s success is an inspiring example of the transforming power of capitalism and freedom combined with hard work and family support—and he rather seems to see it that way too. He has created something special, yet in recent weeks, the local Irwindale, California bureaucrats jeopardized the considerable jobs and cool cache he brings to town with their suits and regulatory hassles. Tran and his company deserve better treatment.

Fortunately, they mostly get it in Hammond’s thirty-three minute documentary. He captures Tran’s passion and modesty and also provides an interesting chronicle of Sriracha’s evolution. Upbeat and entertaining, Sriracha is recommended for fans of hot sauce and start-ups when it screens this Sunday (6/22) at the Asia Society’s Texas Center along with the wholly satisfying feature documentaries Linsanity and Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings, as part of the Houston Asian Pacific American Film Fest.

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