There’s hot – and then there’s chef Chico’s hot. If you order one of his juicy tacos, get ready for a picante culinary ride. For the past three years, Francisco “Chico” Mendonça—the owner and chef of Bem Bom—has successfully set local tongues on fire with serrano, malagueta, habanero and other potent chilies. Blending cuisines of France, Mexico and his homeland of Portugal won him the best food truck title on the Orlando-A-List, twice. Orlandoans voted for his lively sauces, vibrant salsas and senses-blowing fries. The latter, accurately called “the bomb”, explode with Thai basil, truffle oil, real-deal Parmesan as well as tiny green and red rings of Thai pepper. These rings are particularly hot but in chef Chico’s hands they become taste boosters making other fixings dance in your mouth. “It’s all about building layers of flavor with the right amount of heat,” explains Mendonça.

Heat is also on in Fat Cat’s test kitchen in Orlando, where Deborah Moskowitz and Eyal Goldshmid conjure up their tantalizing condiments. Since 2011, they’ve released several varieties of hot sauces and sold them nationally. Not all Fat Cat products are crazy-hot. In the Surprisingly Mild Guajillo Ghost, one the world’s hottest chilies called ghost pepper is restrained to a gentle punch. Chairman Meow’s Revenge, on the other hand, blasts with the fiery scorpion pepper bringing tears to your eyes. And Purry-Purry Sauce gives a medium-hot kick with the small yet powerful piri-piri chili. Many of the ingredients in these sauces are sourced locally, as Fat Cat was able to connect to several in-state producers through help from the Fresh From Florida program. “In 2016 we want to do something that uses local citrus, orange blossom honey and datil pepper,” reveals Goldshmid about the company’s saucy plans.

As pungent as its cousin habanero, the datil rules in St. Johns County. Its royal hotness can be spotted in Seminole County, too. Melanie Corun and Roger Worst from Waterkist Farm in Sanford start harvesting the three-inch long bright orange pods in December. Within the 13,000 square feet of their hydroponic greenhouse, hot peppers only spice up the Waterkist Farm’s main crop—heirloom tomatoes. Together with living lettuce and micro greens, they are destined for the kitchens of K Restaurant, Luma, Ravenous Pig and Cask & Larder. “Serranos, Scotch bonnets and datils are just for the Winter Park Farmers’ Market,” explains Corun. “If we have a surplus, we sell to restaurants,” she adds.

While the Waterkist Farm indoor operation allows for harvesting peppers from winter through mid summer, Stephen Brandon—an avid gardner—enjoys the fruits of his hot passion from summer through fall. In his home in Winter Park, he grows all sorts of colorful chilies in clay pots. “My peppers fall in two categories: too hot to eat and not too hot to eat,” Brandon says about his jalapeño, cayenne, tabasco and several other varieties. He processes his bold habanero and Jamaican Scotch bonnet into hot sauces and chili powders. Bishop’s hat—one of Stephen’s strangest variety—finds its way into salads. This pepper is all over the Scoville scale through which the heat of chilies is measured. It tastes both sweet and spicy depending if you bite into its milder top or burning bottom part. Either way, it’s hot stuff.

Chef Chico’s Pineapple-Habanero Salsa

Serves 6-8

1 medium pineapple, skinned, cored, small dice

2 jalapeños, super fine dice

1 habanero, super fine dice

¼ cup fresh mango juice

¼ cup fresh tangerine juice

2 limes, juiced

1 lemon, juiced

1 teaspoon ginger, finely grated

¼ cup agave syrup

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt to taste

1. Start by juicing limes and lemon into a bowl.

2 Add to juices jalapeño, habanero, grated ginger, a pinch of salt and refrigerate for at least 1 hour covered to develop flavor.

3. In a different bowl mix mango, tangerine juices, agave syrup and high quality extra virgin olive oil.

4. Work on the pineapple, save the unusable parts and squeeze any juice possible.

5. Mix all together and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours before serving.

Bom apetite!