I have a huge conflict in reporting this show, but I owe our followers the truth, so I have to walk a tightrope now. I am scared of heights too. For those of you that do not know the conflict let me go over that for you. We have month plus spicy cooking contest for the last 3 years involving some of the best product makers our community has to offer. This year we had prizes valued over $4,000 including 2 free show booths to the winner, which for a little blog like mine, I can’t understate enough how much that means to me. One of these 2 shows is Zestfest Midwest. In exchange for a web banner and some online support, they gave a free booth to our winner, Mike Isenberg of Wicked Cactus Sauces. Plus, Mike got his own spot on the chef stage to do a cooking 45 minute cooking demo. I am not sure what the value of that is, to me it is worth a lot to get that kind of exposure, so I am so grateful that I Mike got that time on the stage just because he won my little spicy cooking contest.
With a better understanding of my dilemma, how do I report to you about this event without peeing on the hand that fed me? I held back on reporting this Friday, because everyone was trying to stay positive for Saturday. Friday was bad attendance to the extreme, but the thought was that the last work day of the week meant low attendance and the weekend end would save face. While Saturday was 50 times better, the math still looks bad. Only a handful of vendors saw profit. When you invest the booth fee, and add in the expense of travel for those that live outside the area, there is a lot to overcome. Especially for a three day show, another hotel day stay, another day away from family, work, and business as usual, it is very hard to get your money back when the show is a bust. I spent the last 2 days talking to these vendors, and frankly they had plenty of time to talk. The vendors would stroll across the cavernous Ohio Expo Center with no fear that they would lose business. Saturday really was a lot busier than Friday, but that is like saying that the white habanero is a lot hotter than the orange habanero. There really isn’t that much of a noticeable difference in the end.
The problem might have come with people understanding what exactly Zestfest Midwest was. People told me they saw signs for it, but did not see any explanation. The gate was $15/day or $30 for a 3-day pass and parking was $5/day on top of that. For someone that doesn’t know what Zestfest Midwest is, why would they commit to that cost for a brand new show? If they do pay, then how much do they buy from the vendors? The price at the Fiery Food Show is $15 as well, but free parking and of course that show has been around for 25 years, so you can see they built their brand up to excuse the price. Zestfest might be a brand, but Zestfest Midwest is not, and believe me when I tell you that the brand carries no weight here in Columbus, Ohio.
I want to give some positives for the show, but beyond the great products represented from the vendors, there is very little to say. Including the poorly executed Defcon Cluckwing challenge, which should have been retitled Defcon Clucknugget challange because there the show used huge chicken nuggets instead of the traditional wings. You can tell that John Dilley was not in control of the event when he was taken off guard by the announcement of the sauce covered nuggets. Especially after he talked about making sure the bones were clean in the rules moments before the bowl o’ nuggets were brought out. A second bowl was brought out to those that finished the 1st. It came down to 2 competitors, one being the Steve “The Machine” Smallwood and some other guy I don’t remember. I have a video of the challenge, so I will give the guy his due after posting that in a few days. Anyway, it was quite clear that the Machine finished the last nugget first, but it had to show an open mouth, when this other guy threw down his last nugget and was suddenly declared the winner without opening his maw. The announcer Scott, interrupted saying the Machine had finished first, and John Dilley trying to stay away from conflict declared a 3rd round showdown. This had to equal the meat of at least 2 chickens if not more. Both guys were giving their bowls and while the Machine waited for them to announce the start of sudden death, the other guy was all ready pounding down on the nuggets. He might have gotten 2 down before The Machine started. It took a lot for the Machine to catch up to, but he came within a swallow of winning. Clearly, he beat the other guy 2 times, but the prize – an 24″ HDTV – was lost to this other guy. Not to underscore the accomplishments of the winner because it wasn’t his fault, but the Machine got ripped off and the video I post will reveal that truth.
So not too much positive for this show, other than Mike Isenberg’s cooking demo and the actual products. Favorite new products were Ben’s Mustard’s Apple Jack Jelly, but not hot, and Spicy Rooster’s Scorpion Relish. That relish is one of the best hot dog relishes ever created and it contains no cucumbers or pickles, just pickled peppers and carries a nice burn. I bought me a hot dog and poured some on it. Yum. Announce new products, but not yet sold are the new wing sauces coming out from Patter Fam Sauces. A nice take on the traditional Buffalo sauce flavor. Looking forward to getting my Kickstarter soon. Also I have to mention Chad Lowcock’s White Chocolate drink might be the biggest selling spicy product at the show. Might be permanently rebranded as the “OMG Sauce” because many people that try it are like, Oh My Gawd!”.
Well that is it so far. Sorry to be such a Debbie Downer, but unless today produces some incredible attendance from the hand of God, then this show might be regarded as a total disaster. I hate to even say that because I apppreciate all that Spicy Food Productions has done in support of my spicy cooking contest. I hope they can fix the problem for next year, because they have a 3 year contract. Yes, omg.