Being single and having the affordable time and money to get away is a blessing, but I still rather have the family lifestyle that I so crave instead. With that said, I had an amazing 10 days away on my fiery food journey. Sampling so many spicy delights along the way whether it was at the Weekend of Fire, CaJohn’s Open House, Open Fields or along the highways and byways traveled. My trek was measured around 1700 miles, and despite the one day at Open Fields where my battery died, everything went quite smoothly. Well there was the burning legs incident, but I digress. I am going to share some of the highlights during my spicy vacation, I hope you get a kick out of my adventure which will include stories of kickapoo joy juice, everyone enjoying my spicy balls at Open Fields, and finishing off with CaJohn and I eating a dude for the second year in a row. This time we didn’t share. Get your minds out of the gutter, the dude is the greatest burger ever conceived.
Day One: Friday, September 30
It took me a while to get my ass in gear, and after a 30 minute wait at Sheetz to get a buttered croissant and hash browns, I got off to a late start. After my 8 1/2 hour ride I was greeted at the Holiday Inn by the Lettermans of Bonfatto’s Wing Sauce & Marinades. By the way, one of the new great companies to rock the spicy food circuit this year. See Scott Roberts’ review if you haven’t seen it yet, one my favorite sweet wing sauces ever made- Apple Pepper Jack.
After a quick greet and check in, I scurried off to Jungle Jim’s International Market to their Oscare Event Center to see the prep going on prior to the event. The had some horsey-dervies out with an open bar for those that needed to wet their whistle. I was sponsoring the Patter Fam’s PB & J Sammich Stackdown the next day, and it seemed our Peanut Butter that was shipped by our other sponsor- Peanut Butter & Co.- was missing. It seemed someone didn’t realize that it was marked for the show and decided to put on the floor of Jungle Jim’s for sale. Luckily it was found later that evening and my blood pressure went back to normal. Nothing like having a peanut butter contest without the peanut butter.
If you know anything about chileheads at these fiery food events, you know one thing they like to hangout to the wee hours of the night drinking and telling stories. After a few of us dined at the local wing joint, we headed back to the Holiday Inn for a night cap. Well I was happy to drink my non-alcoholic beverages and enjoyed the healthy conversations that went back and forth. So as not to leave any names out because of my senility and also in the attempt to keep names off the internet in relation to inebriation, I list no one. Let us just say that a certain white bearded fellow that resembles a chilehead version of Santa Claus kept us up to the wee hours of the night.
Day Two: Saturday October 1
The Weekend of Fire Show (WoF) begins. I was involved with 3 contests- The Patter Fam’s PB & J Sammich Stackdown which you can view HERE, the HBD Ghost Pepper Brownie Brawl Buster on Sunday which you can view HERE, and the Crantober Fest which was the vendors only contest for the best spicy cranberry product at the show voted on by a select chilehead panel. If that wasn’t enough to keep me busy, I also was in the Blogger’s Round Table which you can also view HERE. That was one of the highlights for me for the whole weekend. The video and posting explain all that so I do not want to repeat myself. Check it out if you haven’t done so.
Along with those videos I also had a chance to video tape a few chileheads eating the Trinidad Scorpion peppers I brought along. Including watching the Machine, Steve Smallwood eat 3 consecutive scorps in a row. Crazy, but I got the video to prove it HERE. I will post the other videos next week, and you will very much enjoy Brandon, our newest reviewer in training, who was a pleasure to watch suffer whist eating his scorpion. So look out for that.
New to the WoF was the outdoor BBQ Alley which was a carnival-like vendor menu of fried and BBQ foods. The cold weather put a huge kabosh on that being any kind of success. People road the Jungle Jim’s monorail to BBQ Alley and back, but speaking with one of the vendors, most people walked briskly through the alley and left as quickly without purchasing much or at all of what was being offered. I felt bad for those vendors having to deal with such cold conditions and then not see the patronage. I ate some Rib City ribs both at the Alley and then later at the after dinner show at their restaurant. Both times were awesome.
The Patter Fam’s contest was a bit of a disappointment because the sandwiches that were made by the Weekend of Fire staff used stale bread and the contestants complained afterwards that it was hard to chew the bread because of it. Pastor Sam & his wife Joyce of Patter Fam’s told me next time they would make sure they would make the sandwiches themselves to avoid it from ever happening again.
The Crantober Fest was so close that I kept enlisting more and more chileheads to vote to break the ties that kept on happening. The top 3 of Crazy Uncle Jester, Heartbreaking Dawns, and Race City Sauce Works were all within 1 point of each other. In the end, Chad Lowcock of Race City Sauce Works won with his Jolokia Berry Vinaigrette. I would like to thank everyone who was able to participate in this spicy cranberry contest. The top 3 winners will get a free demo and ad in the Jungle Jim newsletter prior to the big push of Thanksgiving. I also presented a trophy to Chad for being the big overall winner. It is good to see these 3 companies get the recognition they deserve. A huge thanks to Jungle Jim’s for putting up such a valuable prize. Along with the free Cajun Heat booth for Clement Bourg because he won the Feast Your Eyes on This Spicy Cooking Challenge.
I tried so many products over the two day span it was hard to find a new favorite company, but I did take a fancy to Jerome’s Jammin’ Hot Sauce which had a mild jalapeno flavor. Although Wicked Cactus Sauces appeared at the NOLA Show, this was their first appearance at WoF. Their hot sauces are quite flavorful with my three favorites Ghost of the Samurai (ghost pepper teriyaki sauce), Head Hunter’s Paradise (pineapple hot sauce), and Cobra Venom ( a citrus Thai pepper sauce). Bonfatto’s mentioned above have some great wing sauces and marinades. I think they have something for every palette on their table. Dragonfire Hot Sauce also made their first show, and what a difference a year makes. They have quite a nice selection, but their Original mild sauce is absolutely great and I also really enjoyed their pineapple hot sauce as well. Yes I love pineapple. I think a future match up of my favorite pineapple sauces would be good in the up coming Ultimate Fiery Challenge in 2012. Then from Chicago, Jeremy & Kat Walsh of Bigfat’s Hot Sauce with a wide array of flavors and heat much like Wicked Cactus. I liked their 308 garlic & Ginger the best followed by their 408, a pineapply-jerk sauce. Yeah I know it’s getting old.
The 1st day of festivities ended with the Annual Defcon Deathmatch which was entertaining as ever. I requested their video, but never received it, but you can go to ScottRobertsweb,com to see it HERE. Despite the surprise from his chile friends, the Machine came in 2nd place. A valiant effort from the man who feels no pain. He put his best chew forward.
This was a huge day in my trip, but it went so fast. Like I said before, a large group of us ended up going to Rib City after the Deathmatch for dinner. Including Hudd who was in the contest. A decision he would soon regret later that night on the way home. Those deathmatch wings are evil. At any rate, the dinner had a surprise that I told no one about. I gave a Lenny recognition award named after my Dad who always helped people without being asked to. The heart-shaped award was presented to CaJohn for all he has done for this industry both with his peers and his chilehead brethren. There is a saying, “Pay It Forward”, which I think CaJohn has done without thinking about it for anyone who needed his advice, his assistance or his friendship. He has selflessly given so much to so many as you hear the stories and I have personally experienced, and he does it without asking anything in return. There aren’t too many like him, and it was my pleasure to give the very 1st ILIS Recognition Award to him. The 2nd one was given the next day.
After a great meal, we did the night cap thing back at the Holiday Inn, and there was an even bigger crowd this time, and the night didn’t seem to end. For those that retreated back to your rooms missed out. I do not drink much, and I did not at all for the whole trip. You do not have to drink to have a good time with these good people. So do not think you have to fit into this certain mode to enjoy yourself after the show. One of the highlights of the night cap was one of the staff coming over to try some of the hot stuff. She wanted a Scorpion, but I was not about to be a party to that, so I said no, but she had plenty of the Wicked Cactus Sauces and Dragonfire sauces to burn herself with. She learned fast what hot is.
Day Three: Sunday, October 2
Scott Roberts had a rough night feeling under the weather and since he was leaving Sunday anyway, he decided it would be best to leave early. Ryan and I tried to talk him out of it, but his pasty white complexion spoke for itself. Sunday seemed more laid back for everyone. I still had the HBD’s brownie contest to do, so Johnny sent me on a frosting and milk chocolate hunt next door to enhance the contest. Once I got back I let Johnny prepare in the back and I maned his booth for a while. I sold a few things so I had a sense of pride in doing that. It was fun, but I could not match Johnny’s salesmanship he puts out to every patron that walks by. The contest this year had a slight twist. Johnny put a cup of chocolate milk in front of each contestant, 20 in all, but 12 of them had been given a little scoville boost of The Jester from Crazy Uncle Jester. If any of the contestants wanted a drink they could take their chances on the milk, but they had to finish the whole glass to stay in the contest. I only saw 1 person drink, but he didn’t cry out for help so he must have gotten a good cup. Someone from the crowd told me to drink an untouched milk after the contest was over, so I obliged, but I was lucky too.
The Bloggers’ booth got to vote on the best new product and best product of the show. Our votes went to CaJohn’s Trinidad Scorpion Salsa for best new product, and best overall went to Blaze Gourmet with their Avocado Jalapeno Hot Sauce. It was great to see Senator George Seres take home one back to Cleveland. Finally that city got a winner! Winners of the 2011 WOFI’s went to:
Best BBQ Sauce
Kentucky’s Smokin’ Grill Spicy BBQ Sauce
Best Hot Sauce
Uncle Phil’s Habanero Sauce
Wicked Cactus Sauce
Best Specialty Product
Black Swamp Gourmet Cracker Seasoning
At the announcement of the awards I was handed the microphone and I announced my 2nd receiptant of the Lenny for recognition in the chile community to Bret “Bwana” Vitek. Bret was the man that started the Weekend of Fire Show. He has been a huge supporter of this industry long before that. The WoF would never have happened if it wasn’t for his drive to bring a show to the Midwest in large part to shine a light on the little fiery product makers out there. Now in it’s 5th year, WoF remembers a man who no longer works for Jungle Jim’s, but still carries the torch to see the show a success for the foreseeable future. Bret is not only a great guy with a huge heart, but he is also a good friend to everyone who meets him. It is a pleasure to be able to bestow an award that means a lot to me and my family to such a man. Thanks for all you do Bret!
Once the show was winding down, I made some purchases, stocked up on some of my favorites from both the show and at Jungle Jim’s. Then we partied it up again at Pappadeux’s Restaurant down the road for the 3rd year in a row. Our new annual tradition with the show. Great food with awesome company. We got to play around with Wicked Cactus Sauces’ Creole Demon and Cajun Heat’s products which worked out real well in Pappadeux’s Cajun/Creole menu. We settled down at the end of the night taste testing some soda that I had purchased at Jungle Jim’s. One of those was Kickapoo Joy Juice. It reminded me very much of Fresca. Not bad. Great way to end the night and part 1 of my journey. Next will be my trip to CaJohn’s Open House in Columbus, OH and to Crazy Uncle Jester’s in Dayton, OH.