Sunday, September 22, 2013

Fiery Foods Festival - Brighton

Being the foodie I am, it should come as little surprise that most weekends in the life of Laura involve good food in one form or another.  My default setting when it comes to the TV is the Food Network which drew my attention to the Chilli Festival in Brighton - given the incredibly toasty summer, I thought to myself "wow, what a great idea".
Pachadis, chutneys, ketchup, marinades, cakes, chocolate, fudge and cooking oils were just some of the uses I came across in my culinary travels on Saturday.  Although, before I continue I should point out I'm more of a Korma girl when it comes to chilli heat, whereas Ad (my better half) is the equivalent of Dave Lister.
The Festival itself is a great opportunity for food fans to sample chilli in all of the above formats, whilst it may be a little daunting for the more timid chilli fan, it was incredibly surprising to hear the vendors insist that for them, it's all about taste. The Gentleman at Grim Reaper Foods advised that whilst, yes, his food did have a kick, this didn't compromise the flavour of his sauces.  He was quite right, I've recently discovered Chipotle Sauce so spotting the Jekyll or Hyde....You Decide sauce (which has won a Gold Taste Award in 2012) I thought I'd give it a go.  The sauce itself had a wonderfully smokey flavour which builds to a heat which I was able to tolerate, but the most important thing - I could still taste all the different flavours!  This stuff would be amazing on a bacon sandwich the morning after.
One of my favourite aspects of the festival was the use of chilli in sweet items - cake, chocolate and fudge to name but a few.  The fudge I sampled at Yum Yum Tree Fudge was absolutely wonderful, containing less sugar than your conventional fudge but making no compromises on taste.  There were two varieties of chilli fudge available, one being somewhat warmer than the other; my preference? The chocolate chilli fudge was delicious with a subtle chilli flavour that just warms the palette - I also walked away with a bag of their mango fudge, not chilli based I know, but no less yummy. If you fancy trying some yourself and you're London based, make a B-Line for Harrods soon.

Perhaps what drew in the most crowds over the course of the day was the chilli eating contest.  Now before you roll your eyes I should point out a couple of the rules. Firstly, the chillies are all eaten raw (note the use of the word eaten). All contestants must chew the chilli, it is not acceptable to just bite and swallow.  Secondly, no drinks are allowed between the rounds; if a contestant chooses to take a drink, then they are eliminated; similarly if one hiccups something which is more than a hiccup (use your imagination), then you're also eliminated.
The contest started out with 15 hopefuls, only two of whom were women; please make a note of the fact that there is a bucket in front of every contestant (not that they were used; one such person opted for the floor instead).  The aim of the game was to get through 12 rounds, each one increasing in intensity in terms of chilli heat.  The heat of a chilli is measured in Scoville Units (SHU), the competition started at 2,000 SHU and ended at 1,400,000.  To give you an idea, a JalapeƱo is only 7,000 SHU and is mild in comparison to the finale, a Moruga Scorpion which can range from 1,400,000 to 2,000,000 SHU.  As the event progressed it was clear some of the contestants were in a considerable amount of pain with only 2 remaining for the final three rounds.  Panic not though, once the contest was over, paramedics were on sight with sugar and milk to ease the stomachs. 
Whilst I wasn't brave enough (or stupid enough, I'll let you decide) to try the stronger hot sauces on offer, the tiniest dip in a sauce or a chutney would be sufficient to ascertain whether it would be something you'd enjoy.  I did get the chance to watch Ad try a Moruga Scorpion paste and the pain is quite clearly evident on his face!  I can safely say, I was glad I wasn't him this morning.

Let's not forget that even if you don't intend or cannot stomach to use a hot sauce on its own,  just remember that as a last minute addition to a stew, it can add a whole new depth to your dish and give that extra layer of flavour.

All in all, a great afternoon with a rare opportunity to sample a wide array of chilli-based products which will satisfy everyone from the most timid to the downright heroic.


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