‘Flavor first, fire second’: Fantastic Fuego's Tony Nuñez and Stephanie Sanyour on the perfect salsa
On the most recent episode of Tacos of Texas, salsa takes center stage. Host Mando Rayo spoke with Tony Nuñez and Stephanie Sanyour, the husband-and-wife duo behind the Austin-based Fantastic Fuego. The two of them describe what it takes to make homemade salsas that are a perfect blend of flavor and fire.
Nuñez didn’t always make salsas professionally. When Sanyour introduced him to salsa macha — a nutty and tingly oil-based salsa — he had to create his own version of it. It was so good, he entered it in the 2019 Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival. His contest debut won him first place in the individual specialty category, and Fantastic Fuego was born.
Fantastic Fuego has nine different film-themed salsas, all inspired by the bold flavors Nuñez and Sanyour encountered throughout their childhoods. Though spice is important, Nuñez cites his mother’s cooking and Sanyour’s encouragement as two of the biggest inspirations.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity. To hear more from this interview, check out the Tacos of Texas podcast wherever you get your podcasts.
On how Fantastic Fuego started
Nuñez: I’ve been making salsas for years in different foods and different dishes, never with the intent to sell. It was mostly a side passion of mine and people always gave me great feedback. “Hey, why don’t you sell these?” I’m like, “It’s just for fun.”
When I met my wife, Stephanie, she introduced me to salsa macha. I started making my own version of that and she said, “You need to enter this at the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival.”
Sanyour: That was on our first wedding anniversary, too!
Nuñez: The festival took place on Aug. 25, in 2019, our one-year anniversary. The salsa won first place and I was in shock. It shined a light on me, like, “Maybe this is my calling. Maybe I should start selling these.” Fantastic Fuego was born on that day.
On Fantastic Fuego’s recipe inspirations
Nuñez: Each salsa has its own profile. We don’t want to make one salsa that’s mild, medium and a hot version of that same salsa. We wanted to create different flavors and explore different flavors. We focus on flavor first and then spice. We wanted to explore different flavors to see how we can get the flavor right where you can still enjoy the spice and the flavor combined.
My passion is also movies, so they’re all nicknamed after movie titles. I looked at different titles like, “Oh, this could be a pineapple salsa,” so I’m like, “I need to make a pineapple salsa.” I wanted to make it more obscure and start exploring what I know.
I’ve never made a pineapple salsa before, so I always look back on my family traditions. My mom’s cooking is a big inspiration for me. “How am I going to make a pineapple salsa? My mom never made a pineapple salsa.” On Thanksgiving, she would make a glazed ham and she’d put pineapple on the side with a clove. I’m going to use that clove idea with the pineapple and incorporate that in my salsa and I just add habanero and different spices. So each salsa has its own story.
On Fantastic Fuego’s salsas’ flavor origins
Nuñez: I always go to my wife for that inspiration … She’s not like the biggest spicy head.
Sanyour: I was born and raised in Chile … and so I didn’t really grow up with this. When I was growing up, we had a Peruvian maid and she would really eat spicy foods. And so I was curious. I’m like, “Oh, what’s that? Can I try some?” And she’s like, “Yeah, eat some!” She would feed me hot stuff like salsas and hot sauce behind my mom’s back … I was hooked.
Ever since I was little I had that crave for spice but just not the tolerance that this guy has. … He caters to that crowd that just wants that fire. For me, it’s always flavor first and then fire second.
On making your own salsa
Nuñez: Start with the basics and get the freshest ingredients. Get to know those ingredients and start messing around. But really, having the love and patience for creating a good sauce is key. Look for inspiration from within your family, from yourself, from things you love and incorporate that into the sauce. You can find that passion — it comes from a personal space and then it all comes together.