A Fantasy Autobiography
Written by Bo McBrayer
Grandpa Willie’s kitchen is where I’d like to start this story. Born in Hope, Arkansas in 1933, Willie McBrayer Sr. was as devout to his bible as he was to raising hell. He served in the Air Force during Korea, and he was either a fry cook or executive chef to the generals, depending on who tells the story. He was a pack-a-day smoker and drank enough vodka to make a Slav blush until he met a gorgeous redhead named Mary Jane Moore in California and was fixin’ to start a family. He gave up the tobacco and hooch to support his family of six by driving a big rig hauling lumber. Willie Joe Jr., my dad, was brought up without much directive besides sticking up for his three sisters and learning to hunt, fish, butcher; and boy could he COOK. He married the hippie daughter of a butcher and master baker, who ran a local turkey ranch in Corning, California. My dad still drives the milk truck on the same route in Corning, and my mom still works in the escrow office and does notaries: the same jobs they took when I was born.
To make a long story short, my “chef” Grandpa Willie and I spent a lot of time together once he got his gold watch from the lumber mill. My folks were working around the clock to pay the bills and feed my sister and I, so as soon as I could see over the countertop, I was pressure-cooking chicken and brewing southern sweet tea. Willie was an avid salmon angler on the Sacramento River, so much so that his smoked salmon and fried salmon patties made it onto the menu at the local diner, and his spot on the River was off-limits. Understanding spice, seasoning, and textures from a young age paved the way for my destiny to take a momentous turn when Willie succumbed to a heart attack on October 28, 2010, six months after he was given six weeks to live with advanced throat cancer.
To that day, I had not entertained any interest in culinary ventures in my adulthood. The days waking up with Grandpa at five in the morning to go fishing, where he allowed me to drink as much Folgers coffee as I wanted (I wasn’t even 10 yet), had faded into memories. I proposed to my wife on that same day, October 28, 2010. Our beloved Giants were defeating the Rangers in Game Two of the World Series. I got the call from my aunt while my new fiancée was on the phone in happy tears with her mom. From that day, I knew that no matter where my life and career would take me, I was going to make food for people. I was going to share my love for spice and umami, with Willie guiding my hand from above.
Fast forward to January 2020. The world was not yet ready for a global pandemic, but I was spending my free time in the kitchen. I was trying to replicate a taco sauce from my favorite Mexican joint. At one point, I went off on a sleepless tangent and ended up with a hot sauce. It was as delicious as it was blazingly spicy. The first batch was three-pint jars full of something that I would only use with a feather’s touch, so I went to my food-themed Instagram page and asked my 700 followers if any of them wanted a jar. I told my wife about this before she went off to bed and she chuckled and said, “Good luck, make sure you clean up your mess of dishes.” 30 minutes later, I had 11 people request a jar, some sending me money via Venmo unprompted. By the end of that week, I had cooked up five half-gallon batches of my hot sauce and made $200. Then the world shut down.
I was fortunate to work for a company that accommodated the temporary shutdown of my department’s operations while new protocols were developed, but it still left me with more free time than usual. I took to Twitter, where my presence was limited to a couple of hundred fantasy football accounts. I befriended the Fantasy Stoner, a lovable chap from Southern California whose love for cannabis and football is unparalleled. He sent me a rasta-themed bandanna one day, then I used the bandanna in a video submission to get into his private, 420-friendly dynasty league called HotBox. There were some pretty big names in this league, so I felt the urge to try and impress them. In the league chat, I asked if any of them wanted to try my hot sauce. They all responded with a resounding “YES!” I used Twitter DMs to gather shipping addresses and shipped out 11 bottles of sauce with no labels. I was in utter shock when all of them were raving about this sauce of mine without solicitation. My friend from the league, Scott Simpson, declared it the best hot sauce he had ever tried and coined it the “HotBox Batch.” Soon, there was a buzz around fantasy Twitter about it, and I spent most of the spring and summer of 2020 trying to keep up with dozens of orders through my DMs.
I was lucky enough to be invited to the Scott Fish Bowl as a fan last year, as well. I donated to the charities, then bought the t-shirts, and finally had a custom avatar designed for my SFBX team, of course with a hot sauce theme. Somehow, Scott Fish, himself found out about my HotBox Batch and loves spicy foods, so I sent him a bottle. Amazingly, through the craziest rush of busy that Scott Fish was going through, he found time to tweet an amazing review of the HotBox Batch. The domino effect was immediate and overwhelming. Twitter DMs were now an impossible way to keep orders…orderly. I bought the domain HotBoxBatch.com in July and had a label designed with Grandpa Willie’s old Chevy Truck on it.
The last 12 months have been an incredible ride. The HotBox name, image, and signature taste are indelibly linked back to my name. I have somehow parlayed this recognition into a blossoming career in fantasy football. I became the commissioner of the HotBox dynasty league. HotBoxBatch.com has become BigTimeFlavorCo.com and now includes seasoning blends that I have created in the same kitchen. I am bumping elbows on Twitter with celebrity chefs and some of my fantasy football heroes. I am hosting and sponsoring fantasy football podcasts, and even have a tiny fanbase of spice-loving fantasy football junkies. It’s incredibly humbling to look back a year and fortunately not have as dreary of a memory as many have had. Knowing that I played a part in enriching someone’s life through their tastebuds is a foreign, yet welcome sensation. The things I love and am passionate about are merged together and shared with other wonderful people. The story is still being written, and I promise it will be a spicy one, from cover to cover.