An Interview with Ol' Benito of Benito's Hot Sauce
For how long have you been making hot sauce?
Almost seven years.
What are your most popular products?
The Original Naranja (Carrot Based Hot Sauce), White Hot (Onion, Garlic, Ginger, Ghost Pepper Sauce), Vermont Maple Chipotle BBQ Rub, Habanero Infused Maple Syrup, Chipotle Infused Maple Syrup.
How did you get started making hot sauce?
It all started around 2004 when I was living with some friends in a house we shared while I was in graduate school at Montclair State University in New Jersey. I had a large organic vegetable garden in the backyard of our home. I had always loved chile peppers so I grew a whole bunch one year. All different varieties, mainly cayennes, ajis and chocolate habaneros. I quickly realized that there are only so many ways you can preserve fresh chilies so I began to get into making fresh hot sauce. I worked at a local Mexican Restaurant called Mexicali Rose at the time. The chefs, who were mainly from Costa Rica, would taste test the sauce and with their help and feedback, a “delectable addiction” was born.
When did you go commercial?
I really did not go commercial until I moved to Vermont about two and a half years ago. When I started making the sauce in Northern New Jersey, I would sell a little bit on line and do maybe two or three street fairs a year. After moving to Vermont, I found it was much easier to get my products in stores. I started doing local farmers’ markets in the summer and the annual Vermont Brewer’s Festival which is a two day event held in July on Lake Champlain in Burlington. It has only been over the past year that the products have really “gone commercial”. My good friend Sarah Steward, who is a lifelong Vermonter, helped me with some label work and photography. She also told me which local food coops and farmers’ markets to get into. Thanks to Sarah’s help we are now in twenty one stores across Vermont. I also do 75 farmers’ market days per year at four different markets in Northern Vermont as well as seven brewer’s festivals per year spread out throughout VT, NH, PA, NY and NJ. I am also currently working with a local distributor who is interested in carrying our chile pepper infused maple syrups. A complete schedule of events can be found at www.benitoshotsauce.com
How many bottles of hot sauce do you produce a year?
Last year I produced 5,100 bottles. This year I will be doubling production to over 10,000 bottles.
Do you have a preferred chili pepper as an ingredient?
I use all different types of chiles. As far as a preferred ingredient goes, I prefer to use habaneros because of their heat level and fleshy tropical flavor.
Aside from chili peppers, what do you feel is the key ingredient(s) in making the perfect hot sauce?
Organic Lime Juice because it adds a flavorful fresh tang without the need for salt.
Is there a special process you follow in making your hot sauces?
Yes. It’s a little different than just using a food chopper and throwing everything in a huge kettle. It’s more time consuming and requires specialized equipment.
Do you follow a particular philosophy to making hot sauces?
Absolutely…It’s all about small batches and fresh local ingredients. I source all of the chili peppers I use in the sauces from Foote Brook Farm in Johnson, VT – Gaylord Farm in Waitsfield, VT and – Half Pint Farm in the Intervale section of Burlington, VT. I firmly believe that fresh vegetables and fresh chile peppers make a huge difference when it comes to the overall flavor of a hot sauce.
Do you have any other favorite spicy foods?
Definitely! I really like Thai Food, especially a homemade Panang or Satay Sauce. I’m big into Indian food such as various curries and a good Chicken Tikka Masala. My favorite type of cuisine is probably Mexican though. I really like tamales drenched in a house made fresh hot sauce. There is a local company called the “Hot Tamale” which is based in the village of Johnson, VT . They make the best tamales I have ever had the pleasure of feasting on…from scratch of course. Their poblano stuffed tamale is fantastic!
Do you have any advice for would-be hot sauce makers making sauces at home?
Keep it small, local and take it slow. As one local Vermont specialty food maker told me about two years ago, “it’s all about the baby steps, one thing at a time”. Don’t try to get too big too quick and sacrifice the quality of your product for money or notoriety.
Imagine this sad reality: If you could have only one chili pepper the rest of your life, which would you choose?
It would have to be a toss up between a habanero and a chipotle. I love the fruitiness and intense heat of the habanero, but the chipotle has that hearty smokiness that adds so many dimensions to cooking. I tend to favor different chilies at different times of the year.
If your life could be turned into a movie, who would you like to have play YOU on the big screen? What might the movie TITLE be?
I couldn’t even begin to think of an actor to play me. I think a good title would be “Hot Sauce Man”. Simply because when people ask me what I do for a living, I usually tell them that “ I’m a hot sauce man”. Which is not the only job I have, but it will be some day in the near future.
Any other parting thoughts?
Thanks, Mike, for doing what you do. It’s because of the dedication of people like you that keep the spicy food industry alive and well in America and around the world. I appreciate your interest in my company. Stay well. – ol’ Benito
Visit Benito's Hot Sauce at:
Phone : 802-730-6823
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