Hampton man gears up for chili pepper celebration

Deborah Deasy
| Wednesday, July 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Mexican food entrepreneur Nicola “Nic” DiCio of Hampton sold nearly 4,000 pounds of chili peppers last year at his homegrown celebration of the pungent fruit.

About 1,500 folks attended his 2012 chili pepper festival.

DiCio, 49, plans to repeat the event from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sept. 28 at his 50-acre White Oak Farm on Wagner Road, which includes a restored, 200-year-old barn.

“We open all the structures,” he said. “We do demonstrations ... We're going to crush grapes.”

Chefs from multiple Pittsburgh area restaurants will prepare and serve samples of foods made with Hatch peppers cultivated along the Rio Grande River near Hatch, N.M.

“You can put them in anything,” DiCio said.

Hired valets will show festival goers where to park. Timbeleza, a samba band, will also perform.

DiCio launched the chili pepper festival last year to help maintain White Oak Farm, which includes a portion of the Rachel Carson Trail.

DiCio said it costs him $800 to $1,000 each time he pays someone to mow the fields.

“I needed something to generate revenue for the upkeep,” he said.

Admission to the upcoming chili pepper festival is $5 in advance, $8 at the gate.

“Because the event was as successful as it was last year, we received a couple of calls and concerns,” Chirs Lochner, Hampton township manager said.

“For example, we received a call from Allegheny County saying ‘Hey, don't forget you're going to have make sure that they have the appropriate sanitary facilities in place.' And of course, last year we had some parking dilemmas — when you have that number of people. So we want to see a parking plan.

“We don't expect any problems. I don't foresee any problem with permits being issued.”

DiCio, a graduate of St. Mary of the Assumption School, Hampton High School and the University of Pittsburgh, owns the Reyna Foods grocery and new Casa Reyna restaurant, both in Pittsburgh's Strip District.

DiCio named both ventures after his Mexican mother — the late Lydia Reyna. She died in 2002.

“I'm half Mexican ... I grew up eating tortillas,” said DiCio, who also is half-Italian and the son of Anthony F. DiCio, 82, also of Hampton.

Nic DiCio's parents met when his dad was stationed with the Army at Fort Hood in Texas, and his mother was attending the University of Texas at Austin.

Nic DiCio said his grandfather, the late Nicola D. Dicio, an Italian immigrant, bought White Oak Farm in the early 1900s for about $12,000, and made moonshine there during Prohibition.

Nic Dicio now co-owns the farm with brother Anthony DiCio Jr. of New York City. They have a sister, Gina Yoseloff of Los Angeles,

Thirty years ago, as a teenager, Nic DiCio cultivated tomatoes on the land and eventually grew enough to supply area Shop ‘n Save stores until floods wiped out his 1986 crop.

In 1987, DiCio started his own tortilla chip-making Reyna Foods, which now includes a tortilla factory in Cadogan Township, Armstrong County.

At the upcoming pepper festival, DiCio plans to offer a lot of salsa, tortilla chips, guacamole, tacos, green chili burgers, green chili sausage and corn on the cob seasoned with chili powder.

There will also be plenty of Hatch peppers trucked in from New Mexico, and a variety of dried chili peppers: ancho, chipotle, pasilla, guajillio, pequin and mulato.

“People go crazy over this stuff,” said DiCio, who cultivates a number of peppers, in limited quantities, at White Oak Farm. “I'm trying to develop a pepper that will grow here, and we can roast.”

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or ddeasy@tribweb.com.

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