It's common for Arturo Vizzuett to walk down a street or through a shopping mall and hear, "Hey, it's the Salsa Man."
The 46-year-old Mexican-born sauce celebrity has earned his status as the salsa king of Pittsburgh. If you are a farmers' market regular, you've seen him standing behind towers of clear plastic containers of his homemade salsas. But not for long.
Vizzuett's salsas sell out so fast that customers line up early and buy as many containers of his Cinco de Mayo salsa as their arms will hold. Some days, he says, his stacks of salsas are sold out in 45 minutes.
This time of year, he participates in about 10 farmers' markets; he also sells year round on Saturdays in the Strip District.
Vizzuett works 16-to-18-hour days during the farmers' market season. Each night he cooks up batches of salsa at the Twist ice-cream parlor in New Eagle near his home in Monongahela. Vizzuett and his wife Sherri inherited Twist from her family in the mid-1990s. Vizzuett uses the kitchen after hours, where he cooks sometimes as late as 3 a.m.
"My recipes are 300 to 400 years old," explains Vizzuett. "But I tell my customers they're only 12 hours old."
All 16 varieties of Vizzunett's salsa are preservative-free, and sold in two sizes: an eight-ounce container for $4 and a 16-ounce tub for $5. None are labeled "mild" or "medium": The customer risks the degree of spiciness.
"It all depends on the sweetness of the tomatoes and onions, and the hotness of the peppers," says Vizzuett. "Baking is precise, but with salsa you can never tell. No two batches are alike."
In Mexico, Vizzuett had never heard of the pairing of salsa and chips. "We use salsas to enhance the flavor of meats, fish, soups and vegetables," he says. "But [chips and salsa are] popular here and I'm glad about that."
Among his best sellers are "fresca" (made from roasted tomatoes, peppers, garlic, onions, cilantro and a variety of fresh and dry chiles); mango chutney; Spanish peanut; roasted red pepper and Aunt Carmella's black bean.
"I can't believe how popular my salsas are," adds Vizzuett. "I'm not a chef but I guess I have a knack for knowing what goes well."