Mario and Tony are the creative forces behind the great sauces of Chooch and Pootan. Chuckle at the name of the company if you will, but as we discovered…the sauces are a force to be reckoned with in the hot sauce industry. Yet another sauce maker from
the Buckeye State, we met up with Mario and Tony this past August at the Jungle Jim’s Weekend of Fire show in Cincinnati, OH where we had a chance to sample all of their sauces and just knew that they were destined to be one of our next Featured Products. The hot sauces will be featured in a “part one” review, with the wing sauces to follow in the “part two” version. Mario Bertone of Chooch and Pootan was gracious enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for us about how two nice Italian boys came around to making such good hot sauce….
Tell us a little about the two of you…your background and how you got into the hot sauce/wing sauce business.
Tony’s mother lived with my parents when she came to the USA from Italy.
Tony’s parents bought a home directly behind my parents home, but on another street, our backyards nearly connected. As we got older, Tony bought a home, I bought a street away, and our backyards do connect. This makes it nice, if we drink to much wine we do not have far to go to get home.
Tony is great in the kitchen, his recipe for Hotta Winga Sauca impressed our friends and neighbors. We decide to visit a Co Packer to get his thoughts. CaJohn was that Co Packer. CaJohn liked our product and suggested we enter it in the Fiery Food Challenge in Ft. Worth, Texas, so we did, and took 1st place with the Original version.
We then discussed the business opportunities, and [then] decided to proceed.
We understand your company name has a unique story. Can you tell us anything about it, and how did that name come about?
My Uncle Joe called me Mariooch when I was young. As kids grow they do things they should not do, your told once, twice, and they a backhand. All Italian boys have been called Chooch at one time or another, mine just happened to stick.
Pootan on the other hand, was given to Tony when we were in High School, he had a way with the ladies (I will leave it at that).
Of your sauces, which is your favorite and why? What foods do you like to use it with the most?
Hotta Winga Sauca (GARLIC) is my favorite, this sauce took 3rd place in the Fiery Food Challenge in Ft. Worth Texas. Chile Pepper Magazine said it best, “Be ready for an enormous wallop of garlic — this vinegary delight could repel vampires. It’s on the milder side, but has a pleasant, lingering burn.”
Of course Chicken Wings, but the best use is Ms. Devine’s recipe for Buffalo Chicken Ranch Dip. (1) 8oz. pack of cream cheese, 1/2 cup ranch dressing, 1/2 cup Chooch and Pootan’s Winga Sausa , 2 cups of shredded cooked chicken, 1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack Cheese, 1/2 cup celery, 1/4 cup sliced almonds (optional). Cooking directions: heat oven to 350 degrees , microwave cream cheese 1 minute to soften, whisk in salad dressing and Chooch and Pootan’s Winga Sauca until smooth, stir in chicken, cheese and celery, sprinkle with almonds, bake 20 minutes, and serve with crackers or vegetables.
(Mario references a sauce not reviewed here, but one we’ll do that one with the next set of reviews.)
Aside from commercial success, what other goals do you have for your products?
Commercial success would be great. If the sales of our sauces would allow us to open a commercial kitchen, that would provide us the ability to not only make our sauces, but sauces for others.
Can you see yourselves branching out into other kinds of products? If so, which ones?
We have salsa, cookies,mustard, rubs, all in the works, one day they may all come to fruition.
Are your sauces all your own creations? If so, tell us a little about your creative efforts?
We both grew up with our Mothers version of hot sauce, so this is nothing new to us. I had a restaurant in the town we live, that served Mexican Foods, the gentleman that cooked for me showed me his version of green and red sauces, along with Mom’s receipt we created what we know have.
Tony is the inventor of the Winga Sauca.
Anything new on the horizon from Chooch & Pootan?
We want to focus on the “Pepper Mash” end of the business. We have numerous pepper plants growing, with the grace of God they have provided us enough to process, and make available for sale.
Vespara Hot Sauce: tomatillos, roasted bell peppers, vinegar, onions, jalapenos, serranos, cilantro, lime, garlic, pepper, salt
Sumo Hot Sauce: chile peppers, vinegar, onions, lime juice, garlic, pepper, salt, ginger
Discipline Hot Sauce: tomatoes, vinegar, roasted red peppers, tabasco chiles, onions, lime juice, garlic, pepper, salt
Honolulu Heat: tomatoes, vinegar, roasted peppers, chili peppers, onions, orange, lemon, lime, garlic, pepper, salt
As you can see, all the Chooch and Pootan sauces have all-natural ingredients. Here at the Hot Zone Online, we give that a hearty thumbs-up!
Joe’s $0.02 worth of tasting notes
Vespara Hot Sauce: Lean, mean, and green, this sauce’s identity as a tomatillo sauce comes through as soon as you open the jar. Tart with a bit of vinegar, but not overly so, you really get a sense of the pepper flavor of the sauce with a single taste. While the bell pepper flavor is rather dominant like the tomatillo, there’s the distinct flavor of the serrano and jalapeno that gives this sauce a smooth flavor and medium heat (perhaps 5/10 or so). Nice aftertaste with the lime to boot. The consistency works well also with it being slightly on the thinner side of the spectrum, but it has decent “cling” for most foods. If it weren’t for the pepper sludge that accumulates around the bottle opening, I would find not much wrong with this sauce.
Mild enough to use with about everything, this sauce was ideal with a variety of Tex-Mex sorta dishes, and even made some rather pedestrian scrambled eggs tasty enough to really enjoy. Almost more of a pepper sauce than hot sauce, this sauce is all about the flavor and has great utility. If you like tomatillos and peppers, you’re sure to like this sauce.
Sumo Hot Sauce: I guess the red-faced sumo wrestler on the bottle was supposed to hint that this was the hottest sauce of the bunch, and it is…but not by leaps and bounds. It has the ambiguous ingredient “chili peppers” in it, but it’s hard to tell which ones. The resultant heat is about 6/10 without much accumulation for increased consumption. Almost like a Louisiana-style sauce with the heavy vinegar taste, but you can get that neat aftertaste of garlic and ginger which gives it some extra taste oomph. This sauce is also quite thin and pours easily from the bottle, but shows minimal separation after sitting for any length of time as well.
This is more of an everyday hot sauce that chileheads can dig their teeth into, given a little extra heat. This was a great sauce with chili and just about any liquid-y sort of dish. A fabulous addition also to Cajun food like jambalaya and gumbo, if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere where you can get that variety of food. After I was done trying all the other sauces, this was the one I carried around the most, and the dregs of what remain are testament to that. Good little sauce.
Discipline Hot Sauce: When I saw the words “tabasco chiles” in the list of ingredients, I feared for the worst. Hoping this wasn’t anything that resembled that mass-market sauce that uses mostly vinegar and a pittance of pepper solids, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this sauce was as far away from the other in terms of quality as I could have hoped. This sauce has a great tomato-ey aroma that smells almost sweet, but with definite hints of the onions and garlic. This sauce definitely favors the flavor as opposed to the heat, which is about 3/10. Fascinatingly addicting, I could eat this sauce without any food at all…and was caught doing so on more than one occasion.
Funny that the label features a cartoon of someone crying, because you won’t when you use this sauce. It’s not going to set and land-speed records for heat, but there’s a lot that can be done with this sauce. For me, I loved using it as a straight-up condiment poured over burgers, sandwiches, or even just slathered over whatever meat I was having for dinner. Of all the sauces I brought to work, this one has the best response from the “test audience.” Will give just a tiny bit of spiciness to already tomato-based sauces like marinara with style. Mild, yet supremely tasty.
Honolulu Heat: This sauce is not exactly what I imagine when I think of Honolulu, but it’s a decent effort at something different. Not many sauces add orange AND lemon to their sauces, but this appeared to be more of a pepper sauce than a hot sauce anyway. Probably the thickest of the four sauces I tried, it also had the annoying tendency to have the sauce sludgies accumulate at the bottle opening as well. The aroma seems to be mostly tomatoes and orange, and that alone makes it unique. The straight taste is a strange melange of citrus and chile peppers, with the flavor being somewhat more dominant than the heat (5/10). This sauce seemed to taste a little different each time I tried it, and I don’t know if it was just the subjectivity of my tastebuds or whether there was some unevenness to the sauce. The proof would be with the usage, I supposed.
This sauce was definitely more of a “pour over” than “mix in” sauce for me. Great to use with meat entrees of all sorts, but I even liked it poured over my cooked veggies. The citrus taste didn’t lend itself to as much utility as some of the other sauces, but used on chicken or fish you’ll not mind all that much. Heavy on the roasted pepper and tomato, it’s almost perfect to use on Italian food. I liked it, but in more limited doses than the others. More testing needed, however. A decent sauce.
Other articles about Chooch and Pootan:
One last thing…the Chooch and Pootan website isn’t as functional as some of the others we’ve used…so we hope to see that tweaked a bit as Mario & Tony get more business. I enjoyed the sauces, fellas. Can’t wait to get cracking on Part 2!