Chef Lisa Murphy of Sosu Sauces. Photo: Shikha Kaiwar
Chef Lisa Murphy of Sosu Sauces. Photo: Sosu Sauces

By Shikha Kaiwar (of Shikha la mode)

Lisa Murphy, chief sauce maker and co-founder of Sosu Sauces, has created a line of artisan ketchups that are available at local stores around the Bay Area. As a first-hand taster, I can attest that they take ketchup to another level – you may never go back to regular ketchup after you try it. I caught up with Lisa to learn more about her vision and her company, which was formerly based in San Francisco but moved to Oakland this year. Sauces are available to order online, and Murphy plans to launch a seasonal Sauce Club soon. [Update, Dec. 4: Sauces are also available at Berkeley Bowl, Heat Hot Sauce Shop, the Pasta Shop, Rockridge Market Hall, Monterey Market and Tokyo Fish Market.] 

Sosu began as a solution to bad ketchup. Tell me more about that.

I wanted something that wasn’t sugary, not made from a paste, and has a flavor besides sweetness. If you make a burger at home, it would complement it and not hide the flavor.

Ketchup is something that everyone uses; everyone has a bottle in his or her fridge. Mustard has gone through so much transformation — why not ketchup? Malcolm Gladwell wrote about how no ketchup can be as good as Heinz because they mastered the five taste senses. I disagree — everyone has different taste buds. And people who like our ketchup hate regular ketchup.

You said there were connections between ketchup and Chinese fish sauce.

Ketchup was the first fish sauce; it’s a Cantonese word. I read a book on the history of ketchup and how it evolved from Southeast Asia and went to Britain as a fruit-based ketchup. In Washington, D.C., there’s a chef who has old recipes from the days of the constitution and makes ketchups from gooseberries and Jack Daniels.

That inspired me to think outside the box and make not just another sweet and tangy ketchup. Born in China, I’m used to Asian flavors like what’s in our products. Our latest one, Thaichup, is based off tom yum soup — sweet, spicy, lemongrass flavor. You can pair it with wine and claims, marinated chicken, and yes, tom yum soup.

Where does the name Sosu come from?

Sosu's Srirachup is organic, non-GMO and contains no high-fructose corn syrup. Photo: Sosu Sauces
Sosu’s Srirachup is organic, non-GMO and contains no high-fructose corn syrup. Photo: Sosu Sauces
Sosu’s Srirachup is organic, non-GMO and contains no high-fructose corn syrup. Photo: Sosu Sauces

Sosu means “sauce” in Japanese. We’re more of a sauce than a ketchup. We’re unique and we don’t want to be another ketchup brand.

Which farms are you partnered with?

Frog Hollow Farms in Brentwood — we get our tomatoes from them. Our peppers come from Avalos in Hollister. This is the first year we decided to grow produce on a contract basis — it keeps the price down and extra produce doesn’t get wasted.

You moved your operation to the East Bay this year; why was that?

Our kitchen facility is in Brentwood, Calif., at our farmer’s farm. We moved to Oakland because of a personal move but also because we wanted to be closer to our farmers (one is in Brentwood and another is in Hollister), and Oakland is a good hub for that. Also, many of our stores will also be in the East Bay.

Name a few of your go-to spots to eat in the East Bay.

Manpuku, Gather Restaurant in Berkeley, Jong-ga House in Oakland.

Because of the fresh ingredients, you only have a limited supply of jars to sell each year. How do you plan on expanding while still maintaining the integrity of the product?

Our goal from the very start is to source the freshest ingredients from local farmers when they are in season. Therefore, we only make our ketchups during tomato season, from late August to late November. This doesn’t allow us to grow very fast, but it does allow us to develop our relationships with our farmers, keep an eye on our crops, and make sure our products are made with the quality ingredients we want. We don’t short-cut anything and this slow strategy allows us to put the focus on the quality.

During this tomato season, I drive two hours each day to Brentwood to our farmer’s farm/kitchen to manage our production. We believe the quality is very much reflected in the product and people who buy our product tell their friends about our products, which is the best way to grow and expand.

You worked in tech. How did you switch over to food?

I’ve always been passionate about food and loved to cook. All this started with me experimenting with flavors.

In tech, it was either make somebody else money or else make my own. Packaged food is such a small-margin business — it’s very hard for an artisan to make money. But it’s very rewarding, and once you establish a relationship you grow.

Last question: Why would you say you are most like Srirachup? 

I’ve always loved spicy food. I’m a nice person, but I have an edge to me — my personality’s got a kick to it!

This profile, in a slightly different form, appeared first on Shikha La Mode, and has been reprinted here with permission.

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