HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — Julen Ucar carefully measures the ingredients for his special “Non-verbal Herbal” marinade in the cozy confines of the Ways & Means Oyster House at Pacific City. The sauce, with just the right proportions of extra virgin olive oil, two kinds of vinegar, basil and other spices, has become a popular complement to the restaurant’s steak, fingerling potatoes and spinach dish.

After finishing the first sauce, he starts combining soy sauce, ketchup, brown sugar and enough red chili flakes to give it a little zing. At the restaurant, the sauce, called “Off the Charts,” is paired with an in-house aioli to flavor a tricolor cauliflower entree.

The 18-year-old Fountain Valley High senior with autism created two flavors of “Julen’s Ausome Sauces” that have been featured on the restaurant’s menu for the past year.

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Ucar comes to the restaurant on Wednesday mornings to prepare his sauces for the day. During the rest of the week, the prep cooks prepare the sauces from recipes in a book they call “the bible.”

Executive Chef Danny Allen said when Ucar and his mother, Michelle, first brought in samples of their sauces for the restaurant to consider about a year ago, he realized they would pair nicely with the food.

“I’d put it up against anything that’s on the market,” Allen said of the marinades.

According to Allen, many cooks and chefs incorporate too many flavors into their creations. Ucar’s sauces hit just the right note.

“They’re simple, but they’re unique. It’s amazing,” Allen said.

The Wednesday morning visits, made before the restaurant opens, are clearly a highlight for the soft-spoken teen. Dressed in a T-shirt that reads “This is what ausome looks like,” he seems at home in the prep area, surrounded by jars of black pepper, paprika, minced onion and cumin.

Ucar says he likes the friendly atmosphere in the kitchen, particularly when the prep cooks crank up the music.

For years, Ucar and his sister, Isabel, have helped their mother prepare meals at home. Michelle Ucar said her son often liked to add ingredients to the salad dressing prepared for the family meal.

“We started watching him and he was really good at making sauces,” she said.

That’s when the idea of “Julen’s Ausome Sauces” began to percolate.

“We were looking forward and making a sustainable future for him,” his mother said.

After experimenting with different tastes, the Ucars, who live in Huntington Beach, winnowed their sauces to three versions of each of two sauces and held a taste-testing party for friends. They refined the selections and in February 2014 had the final recipes.

After they got Food and Drug Administration approval, the first batch was commercially bottled in October 2014 by a company hired by the Ucars.

Michelle Ucar said a chance meeting with the owners of Ways & Means led to a chance to have the sauces taste-tested at the restaurant and added to the menu.

Since then, the Ucars have produced three batches of 85 cases each of Non-verbal Herbal and Off the Charts.

Although the sauces haven’t made the family any money yet, Michelle Ucar said she is looking to widen distribution beyond a few smaller stores in her home state of Ohio and to peddle the marinades at special events and fairs.

The sauce is also available online at ausomesauces.org.

Ways & Means donates $1 from each of its meals sold with Ucar’s sauces to New Vista School in Laguna Hills, for children with autism spectrum disorder. Ucar was a student there before transferring to Fountain Valley High.

“For us, it’s great to give back and give Julen a chance to do what he loves,” said Barbara Holder, general manager of the restaurant.

Michelle Ucar said when her son was an infant he hit all the normal benchmarks for a healthy baby. It wasn’t until he was 3 years old and in preschool that teachers said he had a speech delay. That was when others began to put labels and limitations on him, his mother said.

But Michelle Ucar has a different vision.

“This journey became not about what he cannot do, but about what he can do and finding a way to make that happen,” she said.

She said the family’s goals are to strengthen the brand and possibly expand the offerings.

Until then, she says her faith makes her believe in her son’s future.

Julen Ucar is now taking culinary arts classes at Fountain Valley and says he gets “like Bs and As,” in his classes.

He said he plans to study culinary art at Orange Coast College next semester.

It’s likely he will be the only one in his class with his own signature sauces.

© 2017 The Orange County Register
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