Salsa competition heats up - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Salsa competition heats up

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Posted: Tuesday, April 20, 2010 6:08 pm | Updated: 3:33 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Aside from breakfast cereal and maybe ice cream, there isn’t much Tyler Whetten won’t douse with hot sauce or salsa. The man is a pepper addict, going through so many jars and bottles of the stuff that he routinely makes his own. The Mesa resident will share his hot and mild salsas Saturday at My Nana’s Best Tasting Salsa Challenge in Tempe.

Aside from breakfast cereal and maybe ice cream, there isn’t much Tyler Whetten won’t douse with hot sauce or salsa.

The man is a pepper addict, going through so many jars and bottles of the stuff that he routinely makes his own.

“I’m always trying out new recipes, and I always have some in the freezer. As soon as one container gets maybe halfway empty, I’m taking another one out. People are always asking me for it, so I buy pint-size deli containers in bulk, and I make a few gallons at a time,” says Whetten, 29.

The Mesa resident will share his hot and mild salsas Saturday at My Nana’s Best Tasting Salsa Challenge in Tempe. He’s one of more than 75 competitors mixing up 13-gallon batches of the condiment for sampling by a panel of judges and the general public. The event is a fundraiser for the Arizona Hemophilia Association, a nonprofit that helps people affected by bleeding disorders.

Whetten, who works as a bartender in Chandler, has been entering the competition for about 8 years.

“I’ve taken second (place). Last year I took People’s Choice. The funny thing is, I don’t have a written recipe. I just grab stuff and throw it together. It’s about the same recipe every time, but it’s always a little different,” he says.

Whetten’s interest in salsa began around age 9, when his mom gave him a salsa maker — a hand chopper with three blades and a crank.

“I started making the recipe that came with it, but eventually I came up with my own, and 20 years later, I’m still making it. I’ve always liked to cook,” says Whetten.

Over the years, he’s built a portable Arizona Cardinals-themed bar for his booth at the challenge, and he’s started labeling his salsas and sauces with the brand name Pepper Junkie. He’s in the process of obtaining the health department clearance and other permits required to go commercial with his blends.

Some of those hot sauces will be give out as samples at the challenge; Whetten hands them out with tacos that are “free” with a donation to the hemophilia charity.

During the event, spectators will be able to sample salsas, buy Mexican food, burgers, hot dogs, beer and margaritas and listen to live music from bands The Chadwicks, Champagne Trap and True to Life. There’s also a kids’ area with games and activities.

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