The Illustrious And Illustrated History Of The International Hotluck


Long ago, in the mid-1970s, the dawn of a new American culinary history was breaking. Just as polyester was fading into the day-glow sunset of the era, a new taste sensation was budding on the tip of the collective tongue.

At the beginning of our culinary story, we recall that American food was pretty boring stuff, world renowned for blandness. The classic American "pot-luck" concept merely promoted the worst of it with tables heaped high with large anonymous amounts packed inside aluminum foil containers for 12. Worse still, much of was picked up on the way to the party at the local grocery; mayonnaise salad with potatoes, mayonnaise salad with elbow macaroni, little plastic tubs of artificially flavored onion dip and large bags of 'family size' chips. At the time, our fellow "Chile Head" Brian Keating was a man poised at the stove: a white boy with Spice in his Soul, waiting for inspiration to break through the culinary monotony that had gripped the nation. For him, it arrived in the form of various gigs buying and blending spices, and in turn, spicing Moroccan and other exotic cuisines at Denver area restaurants. There, BK became something of a culinary artist and connoisseur of fiery flavors. Yet something was missing…….

Many of his friends, having been deprived of exotic foods and especially foods with flavor - any flavor - learned to cook too, and some, like Brian, did so professionally. Together, this tribe of culinary explorers decided to challenge that revered American institution of the potluck, which for all too many generations was leaving a bad taste, or better put, no taste, in the mouth of partygoers everywhere. It was time to blaze a new culinary party path with liberal, even radical, doses of pungent spices, scorching chili peppers and torchlight sauces. "Circa '70-something" the international potluck was christened by Brian, his long-term foodie cohort "Chef Jimmy" and Brian's brother in the sultry summer backyards of old west Denver. No one was formally invited to those early spicy food gatherings, but those who truly loved to cook, those who revered heavily seasoned cuisine and those who raved over food that screamed with spicy intensity appeared at the events with growing frequency. Store-bought goodies were verboten. The new event would be an opportunity for people who love great food to cook and then show off their best recipes, their culinary skill, their innovative dishes; the best of the best from all over the world. They came from miles around to out cook and share each other's dishes. And it was good.


During this era, you may recall, America discovered the chili. CAJUN was happening and blackened redfish was everywhere. Mandarin cuisine gave way to Szechwan. Thai food was hot! Southwestern, Carribbean, Vietnamese, Mexican, all of it spicy, hot, fiery, YES! Hot Stuff was takin’ over and takin’ over fast! The final blow to the altar of boring cuisine was when salsa surpassed ketchup as the #1 American condiment. As black and white television bowed under to Technicolor entertainment, the American culinary landscape would forever be colored with enticing aromas, colors and flavors.

At the now famous international potlucks, this monumental shift in culinary attitude was well underway as garlic, hot chilies' and colorful spices were embraced like long lost cousins at a drunken family reunion. Sizzling Mexican, Spanish, Moroccan, Vietnamese, Thai and other flavor influences anointed the taste buds of a new generation of culinary explorers raised on the blandest of bland white bread, skim milk and soft white cheeses……Whoa! Change was it felt in the spice-drenched souls of these enlivened madmen and women. Brows were beaded with sweat, and satisfied declarations of "Mmmmm" and "Hmmmm" were replaced with "Whew!" and "Yow!" and emblazoned cries for "Water…..Milk…..Water…Beer!" This was not yo mama's potluck anymore.

The high-octane cuisine borne out of these sizzling gatherings had become so popular that one endorphinized - reads lucid - diner (Suzy Cream-cheese as she was known at the time) was heard to exclaim, "This isn't a potluck, it's a HOT LUCK!" The name stuck, the theme stuck, and now, in the new millennium, the tradition continues over three decades later as a fun tradition of culinary reverence for spicy fine food --- from your kitchen and ours.

Down this path of culinary exploration and spice throwing madness traveled another Chile'-doused, spice-crazed foodie and long-time Keating amigo - Rob McCaleb. Circa 1980-something Rob and Brian were soon using these spice-extreme gatherings to hold winter and summer parties with increasing numbers of regular attendees and greater volumes of insanely delicious food faire from all over the planet…all of it spicy, spicy-hot, ethnically diverse and seasoned judiciously.

Oh, and the odd-lot supermarket potato salad, national brand picante sauce and anemic macaroni salads? Still banned, of course.  And those timid-tongued souls proclaiming distaste of spicy, fiery foods? You might want to skip this one.

Get it comes...the 35th Annual International Hot Luck!

Lick Your Lips and Light The Torches

Rob McCaleb Lyn Ciocca McCaleb Brian Keating

………and thousands of spicy, fiery food Hot Luck fans worldwide!



© 2009 McCaleb & Keating