Ben Tuorto is the definition of a local small business owner you want to support. A Northerner who found his second home in North Carolina 22 years ago, Ben is a guy with a day job who has an even bigger passion: hot sauce. Dry hot sauce to be specific. Benny T’s Vesta started when Ben moved to North Carolina and was entranced by all of the beautiful fresh chili peppers at the NC State Farmers Market. Since he was so impressed, he started bringing them to dinner parties, thinking everyone else would be just excited about them as he was. Unfortunately, his fresh sautéed chiles always ended up going uneaten. He was determined to find a way to make everyone else appreciate the taste of these chiles like he did, so he experimented with some Italian cooking techniques to dampen the heat of the peppers. He transferred the concept of adding onions to mellow the taste of anchovies to his chili pepper recipe. This new technique worked and Ben’s onion and chili mixture became the hit of every dinner party. His sons even carried the recipe with them to college to impress their friends.
In creating this new technique of cooking chiles, Ben’s aim was to showcase the flavor of the chiles, rather than just making the dish as hot as possible. The next step to making this concoction into a hot sauce was making it shelf stable. After working with a food scientist, Ben decided to try making a dry hot sauce, one of the only products of its kind. The process is still the same: Benny T’s Vesta sautés and glazes all of their own chiles, which are then dried. This form offers the unique characteristic of showcasing the taste of the chili pepper without completely changing the taste of the dish. Ben didn’t want his hot sauce to be like a typical bottled hot sauce where the taste of the hot sauce takes over the entire dish. He wants his product to elevate the taste of already great food. After trying the product, I think it’s safe to say he succeeded. Of course, the name Benny T’s Vesta made sense, as Vesta is the name of the Roman goddess of the hearth. He wants his hot sauce to have that same eternal flame as this mythical goddess.
Benny T’s Vesta offers five different flavors: Hot, Very Hot, Ghost, Scorpion, and Reaper. I had the privilege of trying the Hot flavor, which is the mildest of the bunch. This dry hot sauce includes jalapeños and habaneros. The Very Hot includes chiles such as habanero, Scotch Bonnet Devil’s tongue and others. The other three products include the super hot varieties of peppers: Ghost, Scorpion and Reaper. These are definitely for the advanced spice fans. You have also been warned: don’t get them on your hands. I was a huge fan of the Hot Benny T’s Vesta. It added the perfect amount of spice without overpowering the whole dish, meeting Ben’s original goal. It also didn’t change the whole flavor of my dish or make it taste salty or artificial. Tessa, my fellow Tri Foodies writer, tried the Very Hot (the best seller of the bunch) and shares my love. In fact, since trying it for the first time we’ve both put the dry hot sauce on eggs, vegetables, pasta, mac and cheese, meats and pretty much anything else you can imagine. Although he uses it for most dishes as well, Ben’s favorite way to use the product is on pasta. He loves making a very simple pasta with just butter or olive oil and topping it with Benny T’s Vesta.
Currently, Benny T’s Vesta is being showcased in several dishes around the Triangle in venues including Videri Chocolate Factory, Happy & Hale, Capital Club 16 and Whiskey Kitchen. You can also find Benny T’s Vesta in several Whole Foods across the Triangle, as well as many smaller vendors such as Arrow and Southern Season. You can also purchase all Benny T’s products on their website. So if you want to add a little spice to your life, we definitely recommended giving Benny T’s Vesta a try.
Note: From time to time we’re invited out to try a restaurant or to taste new menu items. This meal is usually comped, as this one was. We’re under no obligation to write a positive review or any review at all when we’re invited out to try a place. Every review you see on our site will be an honest review of the place whether or not the restaurant provided us with the meal at their cost.
Melissa Guido is a currently a dietetic intern in the Triangle area. She studied nutrition at NC State and Meredith College. Her favorite part about nutrition is showing people that healthy food can be exciting and delicious. Melissa loves traveling and learning about how food fits into different cultures. In her free time she loves trying new restaurants, cooking, and obsessing over her dogs. Follow her on Instagram @made2order and at www.madeorder.wordpress.com.