Yumi is a Freelance Creative Producer. But that's not who she really is. She's a part-time hot sauce connoisseur with her own hot sauce brand called Lost In The Sauce where she dreams up spicy concoctions from local, seasonal ingredients.
She started Lost In The Sauce in 2017, and since then, has hosted brunches with Bed-Stuy boutique Sincerely, Tommy, created her own line of sauce swag (which I proudly own) and has released multiple flavors. She's a one-woman show; she sources ingredients, creates the sauce, makes her own packaging, handles branding and design, marketing, social media strategy and even produces and shoots her own assets.
For someone so supremely talented, she's also one of the chillest people I've ever met. She's a mama amongst her friends, hosting winter-time home hotpot sessions and match-making all her creative friends.
We chatted on her bed on a particularly cold day in March under the watchful gaze of her strange giant stuffed animal that inexplicably has the words 'Flan and Relax' emblazoned on the front.
ed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Edited for brevity.
Yumi Yamsuan: It’s really important for me to create outside of work because, work is such a means to an end. Having a job is just to have money to fund your passions. It was really important to have a job that was kind of creative but made me enough money to make sauce. Basically.
Jess Tran: That’s all you ever wanted. Enough money to make sauce.
YY: I’ve got my rent covered, I pay my bills. Now I have enough to experiment with these peppers that I really love.
JT: How did you first get into sauce?
YY: I’ve loved cooking and was at a restaurant in between undergrad and grad school, and that was always really fun. A couple months ago, I reached a breaking point where I was like, “Ok, working in this office fucking sucks, it’s so whack.” I was daydreaming; it was so fun to work at a restaurant, it’s such a strong comradery, it’s very physical. Working with food and having a strong ecosystem of the hostess, the servers and the other cooks in the kitchen. That to me, felt so much more meaningful than how do we sell more of this random product?
JT: How would you describe it? Soul-destroying?
YY: It’s crushing. Pulverizing. I don’t have the worst job in the world, it doesn’t matter what it is; if you’re excited about something else, whether it be fitness or fashion or food and you’re spending so much time in an office not doing that, it’s going to suck. That’s kind of what it inspired me to do something.
JT: You started Lost in the Sauce while working, right? How did you balance a full-time job with this on the side?
YY: It was crazy honestly. Now that I’ve had a couple of months to look back on it, it was just going to work, come back at night, make sauce.
JT: And repeat.
YY: And repeat. Cooking has always been a strong part of my routine from the get go, so it wasn’t something crazy different that I was doing, but I realized how tough it is to produce more than the amount I make for myself. I’m a one woman show; in order to sell a product; I need a website, I need labels, I need merch. I need all these different facets. It’s ironic because that’s what I do for brands; I’m a digital strategist, so it was kind of like, ‘oh wait, how do apply this to my own brand?’
JT: It’s fortunate that it allowed you to developed skills that you could apply to your own personal projects.
YY: In a lot of ways it’s really difficult to apply that to your own thing. When you’re doing some big corporation’s strategy or brand you almost don’t care. The stakes are so low for me emotionally, I’m just like, “alright, what’s the worst that could happen; I’d get fired.” That would suck, but I wouldn’t feel bad about it.
JT: There’s no attachment?
YY: This is like my project, so if it failed I’d feel really bad about it, so the stakes are different.
JT: Did you ever feel now that you’re looking back on it, you were doing so many things at once.
Do you have any practical tips that made it easier?
YY: Honestly, I’m really bad at handling my own stress. I just heard to learn what my needs were. I know what my limitations are and in the past I didn’t, which was wild and I was stressed all the time. I quit this job that was a time suck and wasn’t paying me a ton of money. Now I have a chiller job that pays me more money. Boom; that stress, put in a drawer and lock it away.
Having time with my friends is very sacred for me, so that kind of thing is something I’ll always make time for. We’ll always go eat or do something related to food; and that’s kind of related to Lost in the Sauce.
A couple days ago my friend Allison was in town so we all went to go eat hotpot. But I brought my sauce with me. Which is [laughs]
JT: Can you do that? Like BYOS?
YY: No, it almost felt like a drug. ‘Hey guys, I have this sauce in my bag.’
JT: Why do you make sauce? Tell me what you like about it. Especially as you were working full time.
YY: I think part of me is very ADD. You know when you go to a restaurant and you don’t know what to order, you just wish you could order everything so you just want to order a little bite of everything.
I’ve always liked sauces because I like customization. I like to customize things, I love being able to add or subtract elements. For example, I felt like I loved bodega sandwiches...but a bodega sandwich tastes fucking dope with my BBQ sauce or my hot sauce.
I love experimenting with food and just trying stuff out. I’ve never been the type of person who thinks, “What do I want to do for the rest of my life”. It’s more like “What am I really interested in right now.” So, for my sauces I like to be really seasonal and local and obviously there are certain things you can’t get during this time of the year. Right now I’m really fucking into cooking with persimmons; they have a really awesome mild flavor.
JT: Is it a persimmon a fruit?
YY: Yeah! It looks like an orange tomato. I have been making all these different kinds of sauces because I don’t want to lock myself into once sauce. I want to keep pushing flavors and experimenting. I really love the pineapple and persimmon but in the summer, it’s going to change depending on what’s available to me because persimmon is so seasonal.
JT: Is it important to you to keep your ingredients seasonal?
YY: Yeah, I’m not trying to wreck the ecosystem because I’m so married to this one sauce. I’m all about evolving and changing and I just love the idea of something that’s very transcendent; maybe I’m just being non-committal and I don’t want to lock myself down.
JT: I think there’s a merit to experimenting. I can see that as sneakers drop – you could do a hot sauce drop every month. You’re producing in such small batch quantities so it’s not a big deal to swap out stuff.
YY: And I’m just trying to do what’s right for me. I’m just one person with 24 hours in the day; I have a lot of limitations, I can’t mass produce. I have to figure out what works for me and I can only do small batch, and I only want to buy local and seasonal.
JT: What’s your long-term vision? Is it just a project for yourself right now right here or do you envision it becoming a massive sauce corporation?
YY: I don’t see it in the future becoming one big sauce company. Sauce is a way in/ I love food, I love making stuff, I wanted to figure out how to bottle up who I am and my emotions in a product. Eventually, I want to do bigger things as it relates to cooking, whether it’s catering or events, or being that person who has a well-rounded understanding of not just food, but music, art, culture and how that all intersects. There’s a reason why I select the ingredients that I select, and it’s all part of my point of view. Ultimately, I want to share my point of view to the world and sauce is just the way to start the conversation.
JT: Why do you think it’s so important for New Yorkers to have hobbies that are for themselves and nobody else? Why should we make time for that?
YY: New York is such a beast. It’s so easy to be caught up in getting down on yourself because you’re not good enough, or there’s all these people in the city who have more interesting lives, have hotter friends, have all the reservations to the right restaurants. I think it’s so easy to get caught up thinking that you’re not good enough or you’re whack, but it’s so important to acknowledge the fact that New York City specifically is such a concentrated mecca for all kinds of creatives; people who are the best of the best, to people who are just trying. People like me, who are just trying to figure out where they fit into the city. It’s hard not to feel down on yourself when it’s like Kim and Kanye have a house in SoHo. This is also where they reside.
JT: Reality is a little off.
YY: Reality is so off in New York, that’s why I think it’s important for me to keep remind myself that my only competition is myself. I shouldn’t be comparing ourselves to people; it’s so pointless and exhausting to feel like that all the time. Ultimately, I don’t want to do it anymore if it’s not fun. It’s okay if it’s stressful. That’s part of it. I think that’s part of pushing yourself. Fuck it if it’s not fun anymore; what’s the point of doing it?
JT: What if it becomes a billion-dollar sauce corporation?
YY: I’ll probably sell it. I would honestly sell it and use the money to go buy a hut. Just like, go buy a bungalow on the beach and where I can sleep for a couple of years.
JT: Yumi. 2025. Bungalow on the beach.
YY: Yeah – I’ll just invite my friends, hang out, chill with the homies.