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A friend of mine described the exotic homemade ketchup at Cork on 14th Street NW as “curry-esque.” Intrigued, I simply had to try it.  The flavor was extraordinary. The moment it hit my tongue, I felt transported to India, or at least Dishes of India in Alexandria. I seemed to detect a spice that could possibly be curry and something that was both earthy and zippy at the same time. The fiery colored puree contained visible flecks of spice. This, I thought, was definitely something special.

When I spoke with Cork co-owner Diane Gross, I mentioned the complex flavor of the ketchup. She notes that people often aren’t aware of the amount of work that goes into making something as simple as ketchup. When opening the restaurant, Gross wanted to do something different to complement the classic plate of french fries. The ketchup, she says, is “really important because you are dipping each fry in the sauce” and getting a taste every single time. In order to elevate the ordinary ketchup, she called on her sister, who is a chef, to develop something “a little bit unusual,” she says. “We wanted it to be a little bit spicy and interesting.”

The end result is a layered combination of exotic flavors including chilies, coriander, cumin, and for an added “zing,” some lemon zest. It’s a far cry from the usual store-bought vinegar and high fructose corn syrup varieties.

Although Gross developed the original recipe with her sister, Cork chef Ron Tanaka is responsible for making big batches of it for the week. He starts by roasting the chilies and then adds all of the ground ingredients to a tomato base. Customers down several quarts of the stuff per week.

If you can’t get enough of the marvelous ketchup, you’ll be happy to hear that it will soon be hitting the shelves at Cork Market, located across 14th Street from the restaurant. Gross reports that “it was difficult to find a bottle,” but that it will be coming on the market in the next several months in a lovely glass container.

Cork, 1720 14th St NW, (202) 265-2675

Feeling saucy? Email us about your favorite condiment at hungry@washingtoncitypaper.com

Photo by Samantha Le