Emily Williams’s father was a restaurateur known ‘round their small, Michigan hometown for his “flavor-packed sauces." One day recently, or so the story on her Kickstarter campaign video goes, she began fiddling around with his recipe for barbecue sauce, which uses ketchup as its base.
It demanded she braise a ton of produce that she'd eventually dump. Rather than throwing the vegetables out, though, she mixed, ground, baked, and dried them. By happenstance, she ended up with something that resembled dried fruit leather, a blood-red peel with the taste of ketchup.
She manipulated the recipe a bit more, excising ingredients with high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavoring, and decided to monetize her creation. Williams and her business partner, Thac Lecong, teamed up to create Bo’s Fine Foods, a company that’s headquartered in Los Angeles. (Williams’ title is CEO and "Chief Flavor Innovator,” while Lecong serves the CFO and "Executive Spreadsheet Wizard.” Christ.)
Their planned flagship product is Slice of Sauce, a name the pair has trademarked. These Slices of Sauce are squares of ketchup—shaped like Kraft Singles, with the texture of Stretch Island Fruit Leather—that come in packs of eight. These Slices of Sauce survive transit, too, and don’t require refrigeration; their shelf life is about a year in the pantry.
On March 6, the pair began a Kickstarter campaign to mass-produce the slices in what the creators claim is a “state-of-the-art manufacturing facility” in Brooklyn. If the campaign meets its $15,000 goal (and it's quite close as of Wednesday afternoon, nearly $14,000 of the way there), the product will debut on American grocery shelves this summer.
“I have never seen anything like this,” one eager backer wrote on the Kickstarter campaign page.
Really? Fascinating, because I sure have.
As far back as 2014, chef Ernesto Uchimura, then at Plan Check in Los Angeles, had a novel idea: He wanted to dehydrate ketchup, cut them into square slices of skin, and slap those babies on a burger. He called this creation "Ketchup Leather." The product served a clear purpose: a bottle of ketchup can be so stubborn that the sauce is difficult to extract, or, if it does, it botches the landing entirely and dribbles everywhere but your food. Terrible.
But by the time press outlets picked up on his invention in November of 2015, Ketchup Leather was pilloried in some corners as emblematic of the excesses of food hackery, a proposed solution to a problem that barely existed in the first place. (The world went through this call-and-response once again last fall after the Food Network’s suggestion to freeze and serve slices of peanut butter.) Sure, ketchup leather could spare you the displeasure of consuming a crappy ketchup-sodden burger, but how big is the contingent of people who experience this shared terror?
Uchimura—whose Twitter handle is literally @KetchupSlice, implying utter devotion to this invention—has since left Plan Check, though Ketchup Leather remains on the menus of each location. When reached by MUNCHIES via email on Wednesday, Uchimura said he hadn't even known about Slice of Sauce until MUNCHIES informed him about it.
"I looked Slice of Sauce up and I will say that the Slice of Sauce looks very similar to my invention and the story of how they created it seems thin," he wrote MUNCHIES. "Opportunists are everywhere."
Williams and Lecong did not return immediate request for comment regarding when they developed the idea for Slice of Sauce, a product teased on Twitter and Instagram since February of 2017, and whether they were aware of Uchimura’s ketchup leather before beginning this venture.
Perhaps it’s foolish to believe that anyone has a monopoly over the very concept of a ketchup roll-up, a fact proven by the existence of a Kickstarter for an invention eerily similar to Uchimura’s.
I must say, though, that it’s mildly astonishing that more than one person has had this idea.
UPDATE, 3/21/2018, 5PM:
Emily Williams provided the following statement to MUNCHIES via email on Wednesday afternoon:
"I was vaguely aware of a ketchup leather used at a restaurant, but had never seen it in stores. We’re excited to take our patent-pending Slice of Sauce™ to the grocery market for consumers to enjoy either at home or on-the-go. We have plans to add more globally inspired flavors, including the BBQ sauce that is responsible for launching us into the Slice Age."