North Lake Tahoe Bonanza – It’s not surprising that the family that created KISS (Killer Italian Sicilian Sauce) comes from an environment of hanging out in the kitchen with family and friends.
The Casino family, transplanted from Sicily to Southern California, has a well established tradition of gathering in the kitchen.
Back in the 1950s when kitchens were large, several generations lived in the same neighborhood and neighbors would gather to talk, sip wine, stir sauces, chop vegetables and taste the end result before adding a bit of this or a pinch of that.
That was when cooking was really cooking — not nuking a bite or pausing at the fast-food, drive-through window — and it was a way of life that brought people together.
“Everyone in my family knows how to cook,” said Tony Casino of Incline Village.
He said the sauce is made from a recipe his father created.
Dennis Casino, Tony’s father, has been offering the sauce at farmers markets in San Clemente and in Corona del Mar, Calif., while Tony offers the sauce at the Incline Village farmers market.
The elder Casino had not planned on going into the food business. He started out teaching and coaching football. That career lasted 23 years, he said.
When Dennis sought a second fulfilling career, his thoughts turned naturally to food.
“I’m happy when I’m around food,” he said. “Cooking is like building model airplanes except when you’re finished there’s nothing left over.”
Dennis bought the Ballpark Pizza deli and restaurant in Oceanside, Calif. Customers often asked him for the sauce, especially when they heard he was closing the restaurant in 1996.
“I ran the business on a shoestring, and that’s almost a death knell for a restaurant,” Dennis said.
When he left the restaurant business he worked for H&R Block until he became proficient enough to start his own tax business. The money he earned doing this has helped enable Casino to return to his first love: cooking.
“It’s an area I keep returning to,” he added.
He said that when his cooking tastes right to him other people seem to agree.
“I don’t mean that in a bragging way,” he said. “I mostly cook what I like to eat.”
He said that rather than neutralize the acidity on the tomato-based sauce he pays extra to have the processors skim the acid off the top.
Many other sauces are neutralized by adding sugar or baking soda, he said.
“You can always taste refined sugar, and baking soda leaves a bitter taste,” Dennis said.
“I add burgundy wine and the natural sugars from that blend with the other ingredients,” he said.
He also adds the ingredients in a certain order and takes the temperature of the sauce as he goes along.
“It used to take me six hours to make the sauce,” Dennis said.
But once he hooked up with a food technologist, the formula was plugged into a computer, and the process was streamlined into just one hour.
From the food technologist, the sauce proceeds to a formula processor.
“I still order all of the raw materials,” Dennis said.
He found a processor that would allow him to oversee production on the first two runs.
“Now they’ve got the hang of it; I don’t need to be right there any more,” said Dennis.
Prior Foods in Newport Beach agreed to process a minimum amount of 225 gallons, or 30 cases of sauce, Dennis said.
“I’m at a new junction with the business now,” he said.
Dennis and Tony are trying to get the sauce into supermarkets.
“I need some expertise, a food broker or sales representative,” he said. “I really believe this sauce can compete.”
Courtesy of North Lake Tahoe Bonanza 7/21/2000
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