“Have you tried it yet?” Chef Pii asks, a few minutes into our conversation. The internet is currently going wild over a mysterious sauce created by the Miami-based chef, who has declined to give her real name. On the other end of the phone line, she’s quiet – waiting for me to tell her about her homemade condiment, waiting, like the rest of the world is, to find out whether it’s good or bad.
By now, you might have seen the sauce – it trended on Twitter, Desus Nice posted about it and Netflix got in on the meme, too. Endless jokes are being made online about people refusing the vaccine but purchasing a random person’s sauce from the internet. But why has a bottled sauce caused so much controversy, and how did we get into this big pink mess?
Last month, a fuchsia concoction known simply as “Pink Sauce” debuted on Chef Pii’s TikTok account, slathered liberally – sometimes disgustingly – over fried chicken, nuggets and burgers. “It’s edible and natural who wants to try it,” she asked in one video, adding the tongue-out emoji. She started promoting and selling the Barbie-coloured recipe to her followers, enticed by its bright colour.
But safety questions were raised by understandably concerned viewers. Was this dipping sauce legal to sell, and did it have FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) approval? What were the ingredients? What about preservatives and all that jazz? And, more importantly, what did it taste like?
When the product started shipping on 1st July (it’s currently on sale for $20, plus handling charges) people began posting videos of what they’d received. The label, for one, had a few inconsistencies on it. It misspelt the word “vinegar” and claimed that one bottle contained 444 servings (a figure that, as people pointed out, is an “angel number” – one with recurring digits). One buyer couldn’t locate an expiry date on their bottle. Some customers’ sauces arrived in various states of damage, from leaking on the packing slip to smelling rotten. Others turned up in Jiffy and Ziploc bags.
Pii’s sauce vids have attracted millions of views, with users across the app all hungry for a sense of its flavour. But its creator, who calls herself “The Flavor Genie” on Instagram, couldn’t seem to answer that herself: none of her videos describe the taste. “If you want to taste it, buy it,” she said in a later video, addressing the comments.
When I ask on the phone, she somewhat unhelpfully describes the flavour as a “secret sauce”. “It has its own taste, and if I compared it to something I would be lying to you.” Perhaps like ranch dressing, I offer? “It has some tangy notes like ranch,” she confirms, “and some people say it smells like ranch because of some of the herbs that we use.”
Although she’s only been in the sauce-selling game for less than three weeks, this is not her foray into the food business. Pii, 29, has worked as a private chef for the last four years, and photos on her website show her with rapper Trippie Redd and pro bodybuilder NDO Champ. On Instagram, she advertises seven-course dinner experiences for couples and her mixology skills. In 2021, while she was running her own restaurant, a friend “who’s like a fake ass vegan” suggested she make a pink sauce, she says. “If you put [in] food colouring, they’re gonna drag you like a dog,” the friend said. “So I was like, ‘Oh, let’s use dragon fruit!’”
Having suffered from anxiety in the past, Chef Pii says she started eating the exotic fruit “to balance the magnesium in my body,” which inadvertently familiarised her with its natural food colouring properties. But why pink? “Pink is me,” she replies. “But my favourite colour is not pink – it’s blue.”
One of the mysteries surrounding the sauce is its shade, which looks different in each video. Sometimes it’s a light salmon colour, but elsewhere it looks almost Barney the dinosaur purple. Other times, it’s the exact lurid pink of indigestion medicine Pepto-Bismol, or Teletubbies snack Tubby Custard.
“People have to realise they’re judging a prototype,” she says to this. “They’re not judging the real [final] product. We amended the colour due to people’s opinions and them saying that the pink was so dark, you know? Nobody really liked the dark pink. It was the lighter pink that everyone liked, so we switched to that colour; however, it was not a product going out at that time. We were in pre-sales.” Thinking about the colour again, she interjects: “And if it’s too red, it will colour your poop. Your poop will be red. I wouldn’t want people pooping red.”
The dragon fruit gives the sauce its unnervingly bright hue, but its other listed ingredients are sunflower seed oil, raw honey, garlic, chilli, distilled vinegar, pink Himalayan sea salt, dried spices, lemon juice, milk and citric acid.
And to answer the burning question: the sauce is safe and is legal – so she says, anyway. Has it gone through proper testing? “It’s not in its testing period,” she answers. “You don’t have to do lab testing to seek compliance with the FDA.” I ask if she’s FDA-approved. “The lab testing is just for me to be able to get my product in stores faster.”
I ask again, but she cuts me off. I ask a third time: FDA? “The facility that I work out of is FDA-approved, and I am FDA compliant. There is no such thing as being FDA-approved; you can only work from an FDA-approved facility.”
She reiterates her work as a chef “for years” while admitting there are “a few grammar corrections we need to make”. About the aforementioned angel numbers, Pii says she mixed up the quantity of grams (444) with the total serving size. It was not, as some believed, a random number that she had pulled out of thin air. Regarding the mail orders, “we don’t use USPS as a carrier anymore.” (Out, too, are the Ziploc bags.) Whether Chef Pii will be facing any lawsuits or not, as some have suggested, remains to be seen.
Pii believes that the attention the viral fame has put on her small business is unfair. “We have a micro-lens on us because the sauce is so unique and has caused so much of an uproar, [so] people are critiquing every little mistake that we’ve made,” she says. “But to try and say that the pink sauce is not healthy, or you know – I have a son with allergies. I literally ride around with an EpiPen in my purse every time we go to dinner. I’m not going to allow a troll to see me stress out and rage on the internet about my authentic self.”
Whether people trust the sauce or not, one thing remains clear: they’re buying it by the bucket load. Pii has sold 700 bottles since putting the sauce on sale, and only eight people so far have asked for a refund, she says.
And when the hype eventually dies down, she’s prepared for that, too. I ask her if she has another sauce in mind. Maybe a blue one, a green one… red? “We’re working on a new sauce,” she says. “A dessert sauce.”
And the colour?
“Hot pink,” she confirms. But as for now: “The pink sauce is here to stay.” Sometimes you’ve got to have faith in your own sauce.