September 20, 2013
I owe a lot of my sanity on this trip to the Sauce Goddess, Jennifer Reynolds. I was still having personal issues that I could not drop, and she told me to focus on where I was and have a good time with the people around you. Jennifer and I shared hotel rooms in Houston, TX as well as New Iberia and Lafayette, LA. We did the tourism thing in Louisiana and I had a great time with her company. Thanks very much Jen, you were an awesome travel mate. Our Friday schedule immediately became a bit sketchy because of the weather. It was raining and it was going to get worse and worse as a big storm was heading our way. Friday was setup day at the Stafford Centre for the Houston Hot Sauce Festival, so it was a matter of choosing the best time to dance between the raindrops.
Both Jen and I decided to visit the new iBurn brick and mortar hot sauce store before helping her setup her booth. The look of the store was amazing. So clean and professional looking. The murals were so very artistic. See the pic at the top for the outside mural and part of the inside mural is below. I really liked the way the bottles were child-protected by these small metal bar guards. While that was good against bottles tipping, the appearance was extremely sharp and appealing. Proprietors, as well as newlyweds, James and Amy Beck/Wreck had started selling products last year online and having such a widely successful show close by, they are going to support the festival by bringing in some of the vendors that appear. The idea is to tell the attendees at the show if you like the vendor’s products you will be able to reload at iBurn. Many of the vendors at the show gave away iBurn postcards to push home that point. Good marketing.
We ran into Ed Currie from Puckerbutt and his co-hort Bret while at iBurn. After a little small talk, some lunch and a couple of stops for the Sauce Goddess, we had a break in the weather. We then headed over to the Stafford Centre to get the Sauce Goddess setup before the real bad rainfall hit. Jen was worried about the tent keeping out the rain and hoped that the winds would not take down all the hard work we put into getting it upright and secure. She did a great job, and in the end the structure held up while others did not.
Friday night we headed over to the James & Amy Beck party to celebrate the elopement they did a month earlier. The place of destination was the Berryhill Baja Grill, and it served awesome Mexican food. A great relaxed atmosphere with two bars. One that served alcohol of course, and the other was a hot sauce/salsa bar. That had this cilantro crema which I thought was a delicious sauce. That stuff was applied liberally to my fajitas. The best of all was the designer cakes. Yes, I said the plural, cakes. Amy had a lovely multi-blue tiered foo-foo cake, and James had choosen to go with a BBQ grill cake. It was brilliant. Let me share some of the pics here with you all. That chicken wing is no chicken wing, that was part of the cake.
While at the Beck party, one thing was on the minds of a lot of the guests, and that was of the Houston Hot Sauce Festival and the downfall of rain that was coming down in bucketfuls. Many of the guests tried to wait the storm out, but there did not seem an end in sight as the rain kept coming down hard. There was no way in anyone’s mind that the festival’s grassy field would not be a muddy mess. Many of the vendors were clearly worried that if the rain did not lighten up by the morning, the attendance might not be as strong as past years. The water was rising in the parking lot outside the restaurant as time elapsed, so how would a grassy field hold up against such levels of rain? It would be interesting in the morning.
September 21 – the 1st day of the Houston Hot Sauce Festival
I had to get to the Stafford Centre early to make sure the World’s Best Salsa Contest was setup and I had everything I needed for the judges. We would begin judging at 9:15am, and the festival started at 11am. I did not want to take away the fun of the event from my judges, and an early start, meant an early end. We had 75 salsa to judge in 3 different categories – traditional, black bean, and fruit-based. So we were going to spend a lot of time tasting the salsa and we needed to keep to the schedule, so I was there before 8:30am.
When I arrived, my job was to tell the Sauce Goddess if her tent had not survived the night. Her tent was fine looking just like we left it. Her neighbor’s booth was structurally destroyed as the frame was bent in a weird shape. Two other booths took a bad beatdown – CaJohn’s and Puckerbutt. Both tents and tarps had caved-in with the heaviness of the water. It was not pretty. I called CaJohn to alert him of the problem, and would have alerted Ed Currie too, but I thought he had setup elsewhere. The integrity of their the structure had held up though, but a lot of work had to be put in to get things right before the festival began. To see the muddy mess of CaJohn’s booth after the festival was over was a sight to see. How they even worked in that mess is beyond me. Kudos to their whole krewe.
The first of my 7 salsa judges was the one and only Grape Nut aka Grapie who represented the Snowdrop Foundation for which the salsa was organized for to help fight the fight against Pediatric Cancer. He was my only returning judge from last year, and he remembers that some of these salsas would be pretty hot. Including myself, I had 3 judges representing ILIS – Fiber Joe and Ken Alexander who also brought his son Jonathan to be a judge as well. We then add in YouTube sensation Ted (Barrus) the Fire-Breathing Idiot all the way from Oregon. Check out Ted’s YouTube page HERE. If you look at his recap of the Festival Day 1, you will see just how much of a mess the event was. Especially, the area where he is eating the Frozen Chocolate-Covered Cheesecake. Our last judge is Dana Romero from the upstart Louisiana Hot Sauce Festival which will kick off in July. I will have to say that I made a good friend in Dana as he is the type of person you can hang with all day long.
All my judges were great and fair, and withstood some tough heat from some salsa with the hottest chiles in the world. We even had one with capsaicin extract in it, and I am not sure with all the great tasting ultra hot chile peppers in the world why they would taint their salsa with such stuff. That salsa leveled a few of our judges. The best of the salsas were very good. Last year we had 55 entries and the fruit-based salsas could not come close to the scores of the traditional ones. This year, the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th highest scoring salsa was the fruit-based ones. The highest scoring salsa was the black bean. Those 4 salsas were the only ones that scored over 100 points. The winner of the traditional as a green tomatillo salsa and that scored a 99. To see which salsa won what, and how to get you some, check this link out HERE. I will say that Deception Salsa had 4 of the top 7 salsa in this contest. That says a lot about their salsa products.
Once the judges had given me their score sheets, Dana helped me out immensely and stayed behind to help me add up the scores. It took us an additional hour to get that done, and without his help I think I would still be there adding up the scores. During our salsa judging we had Brad Bishop and his co-hort Brannon Dreibrodt aka Raisin Bran come by and say hello. Brad used to review for us, and has told me in the last few days that he would like to rejoin the ILoveItSpicy team. A welcome addition once again. We also had my ex-VA bud Firehead Thomas swing on by for his only stay at the event. He was to join up with us again at the Chile Pepper Extravaganza the next weekend. More on Firehead later in my recap. I will have a lot to say about that man and our friendship. Pictured with Tracy Campbell of JACS Tailgaters.
Many hours had passed before I could even see the light of day. The sun was peaking through the mostly cloudy sky, but the rain had stopped. The crowd was even worse if that was possible, than when I arrived. There were people everywhere and mud tracks led in all directions, especially the bathrooms. Please excuse my manners for a moment, but I must describe it this way so you fully understand. The men’s bathroom was so muddy that if someone had taken a crap on the floor, I am not sure you would have noticed it. And no, I did not test this theory out.
One of the more memorable stupid things I did on this trip was to purchase water shoes at Wal-Mart. My thought process was nonoperational at the point of purchase thinking that water shoes also meant water-resistant. The first step into a mud-puddle alerted me to the fact that wearing socks with these water slippers was even stupider than the actual purchase. Even spending only $10 for these things did not make me feel any better about turning my socks a rich sewage brown color. Nor my feet, which were getting weighed down by the even less water-resistant socks and the squish-squish sound between my toes was not in the least bit comforting. I sludged through the event slowly, saying hello to the vendors, new and old. I knew most of them and they also knew me, so it was great to see so many familiar faces. It made me forget about my wrinkling muddy feet for a moment. Seeing the Chile-dren’s area in all it’s glory, it was quite the spectacle. You can see the pirate ship with octopi and the extended play area in the pics here…
Once I saw my roomie, the Sauce Goddess with a huge crowd at her booth, I jumped in and helped a little. Being a big fan of her products, especially the Moroccan Twist spice (also in popcorn) and her sweet and tangy BBQ sauces, I found it easy to sell her products. Just giving people what I like was a good start to getting them to try more. I am not sure I would want to do this full time, but I did enjoy interacting with the crowd and convincing people to try Jen’s products out. Not just that I was telling people how to make the perfect ribs in the oven using her sauce. It was fun and I was able to help my dear friend out and allowed her time to restock and use the facilities while I made the big bucks. Well a few here and there.
Despite the bad weather from the night before. Despite the fact the grassy field was a muddy disaster, the crowd was at the festival and they were buying. Whether they came to see Bumblefoot jam with the show bands or to see some of the contests like Intensity Academy’s Lolly-Lick-A-Thon and Silverleaf International’s salsa eating/drinking contest, or whether they came to get their spice on, they came. A little mud would not stop this crowd. It was almost as if they were relishing in it. The kids were applying it to their legs like war paint. There was sloshing sounds everywhere. This was an impressive showing. I am sure it made show promoter Carol Borge very happy to see so many smiling faces. By the way, Vic Clinco won the lollipop event yet again. He also won it in New Orleans as well. The trophies are exquisite.
Once 6pm hit, the festival started it’s slow close and the vendors headed to the VIP area for some free BBQ vittles. Unlike last year, we did not award the salsa trophies because only 1 of the 9 awards were from the festival this year, and they were not present in the room. So there was little to mention here other than there was some good chatter and food. Many of us had a nitecap back at one of the hotels and took a picture or two. Including the one below. I think we will end with that and continue on day 2 of the festival.