Michael Choi, the chef-owner of Wooboi Chicken with locations in Herndon and Alexandria, does not eat the Code Blue spice mix at his own restaurant. “Code Blue is way too hot for me,” he says. “I stick with level two!”
Then why does he make the blindingly spicy sandwich and tenders? “Because it’s fun! A good chunk (of customers) are overconfident with how much spice they can actually handle. It’s always really entertaining to see how they react after eating some real fire,” says Choi.
Would I be like the team of professional athletes who each took a bite of a single Code Blue tender and left crying in pain? Or more like the middle schooler who quietly felled a whole basket of tenders on her own? I had to find out.
When I ordered my Code Blue sando, the counter staffer hesitated to ring up my order. “It has Carolina reaper peppers in it,” she almost whispered. “Is that OK?”
And that’s not all. That pepper, which is just a few Scoville Heat Units below U.S.-grade police pepper spray, is joined by Ethiopian spice mixes mitmita and berbere, and ultra-hot scorpion and ghost peppers. The result is a conflagration that blends flavors like cumin and turmeric with its own blast of heat.
My first impression was that the meaty slab of crispy chicken looked darn inviting. My second was that it smelled spicy, but not threatening. The initial bite tasted strongly of the earthy aromas of the berbere with a hint of sweetness. Choi says that it’s important to him to make the spice mix taste appealing, not just hit diners over the head with heat.
It took about a minute before I became aware of the power of the punch I was about to endure. My heart rate accelerated. My right eye let loose a juicy tear. I went numb. But I persisted. By then, I was in something like an altered state. The fluffy potato bun, which soaked in the thick layer of cider slaw and swipe of mayo-based comeback sauce, felt extra pillowy, as if I could repose inside. The tangy pickles in the sandwich and side of crinkle-cut fries were my only breather from the out-of-body experience.
Did I finish? No, but it was more a question of capacity than pain. That started later, anyway. On my way back to the office, I was hit by a wave of queasiness. My stomach burbled. My palate may not have been as disrupted as I’d expected, but the rest of my digestive system was. My stomach ached like it hadn’t since I was a kid.
When I got home, my other half proposed that we have Indian for dinner. For the first time in my life, I said no to one of my favorite cuisines. But despite my prolonged discomfort, I felt a certain sense of accomplishment.
As Choi puts it, “There are so many adventurous people out there. Not many people make it past the first or second bite, but hats off to everyone who tried it!” And hats off to Choi for creating not just a sandwich, but a spicy phenomenon.