The Place: A Publix Supermarket near you. Tabanero is a Florida-manufactured hot sauce that is just showing up in more than 600 Florida Publix stores after two years of persistence by its creators.
The History: The hot sauce was created by Kevin Peake and investor Carl DeSantis in 2011. Peake, who grew up in Fort Lauderdale, was always into healthy eating and spicy foods. He has been somewhat of an entrepreneur since his kindergarten years, when he peddled candy to classmates. He moved to Los Angeles at 18 to pursue a career in acting but ended up following his passion for hot sauce. He went to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico to check soil for growing hot peppers — hitting gold in Tabasco, a very fertile region on the Gulf Coast. He works with a farmer there who grows habañero chiles. He first sold the sauce out of the back of his truck and was flattered when restaurants reported bottles being stolen. His managing partner is Danny Vitelli, based in Boca Raton, where the sauce’s distribution center is. Vitelli grew up in an Italian-American family and came to South Florida to work for Laurenzo’s Italian Market and then had his own private label food company with his twin brother, Mike. He discovered Tabanero at a farmer’s market, loved it, made contact and was hired as a brand development specialist. He now oversees day-to-day operations. The hot sauce was awarded Rookie of the Year 2012 by U.S. Foods. Puerto Sagua, the Cuban restaurant at 700 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, uses more of the hot sauce than any other venue nationwide.
The Sauce: Although made with habañero peppers, the sauce is flavorful — not super hot so you can taste what you are eating. It comes in three flavors: original, sweet & spicy and extra hot picante. Add it to eggs, burgers, hot dogs, wings, seafood, sandwiches, soups, beans — and of course tortilla chips, guacamole and tacos. The fresh red habañero peppers are made into a mash and fermented, then aged in wood barrels in a plant in Sarasota. Then, other ingredients are blended in, including agave, carrots, onions, Key lime juice and salt. It contains traces of sulfites that form in the soil, but the product is 100 percent natural. The overall flavor profile is tangy and fruity with a bit of kick and fresh vegetal notes with a sweet back end, sharp aroma, thin texture and bright color. It was born in Mexico but has been reared and aged in Florida.
You Didn’t Know This: The name Tabanero comes from the combination of Tabasco, Mexico, and habañero pepper. The chile is also called caballero, or gentleman pepper, and is shaped like a tiny Japanese lantern. Fresh habañeros are sliced at the pointy tip end and stirred into sauces to unleash the heat, a technique known as “walking the chile through the sauce,” adding pungency but not searing heat.
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To Purchase Tabanero: Cost is $7.99 for an 8-ounce bottle and $25.99 for a 4-pack. Available at most Publix markets statewide, online at tabanero.com and Amazon.com, and is also sold in Margaritaville gift shops.
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