Written by Phil Cerroni
By Jess Paniszczyn
Some like it spicy, some like it hot and some like it atomic melt-down. Regardless of their degree of heat tolerance, spice lovers of every description were welcomed to ZestFest hosted in the Irving Convention Center Jan. 25-27.
As Jason Byoreck described his love of all things edible and spicy, his red-faced friend did a sort of one-man jig nearby with beer in hand.
“I just like spicy food and hot peppers,” Byoreck said. “My favorite thing was the Carolina Reaper puree at PuckerButt. It was very spicy and delicious.
“I love seeing the faces of all those people eating hot peppers. Watching my friend in the Atomic Wing Challenge was pretty fun, even though he didn’t win. We have definitely had a good time out here.”
New to ZestFest, Ragan Briter tagged along with friends, but she is now looking forward to coming back to the event next year.
“My good friend, Lisa, really likes hot and spicy food, so we came to check it out,” Ragan said. “ZestFest is awesome. I saw a guy cry when he tasted the sauce over here at this booth. He was literally crying.
“My favorite thing was the boudin sausage: it had just the right amount of spice for me. The food has to taste good. It can’t be so hot that it loses its flavor for me to enjoy it.”
Once a simple farmer, Gale Carr’s interest in chilies has taken him around the world.
“We grew chilies, and we decided to move up the chain a little bit and put in our own processing plant,” said Carr, the owner of Chipotle Texas. “Once we started processing, we learned more and more about chilies. Now we sell about 42 different kinds of chili peppers. I go all over the world buying and selling chilies. Part of it we grow and part of it we source out of places like Mexico, Columbia, Arizona and South Carolina.
“I enjoy the spice business, because I enjoy food. I love to eat.
“ZestFest allows us a chance to get out and see people and see their reaction to some of our products. Typically, we sell a lot of industrial ingredients (franchises/restaurants). This event lets us sell directly to the consumer and see how they like it and hear what they think about it. That interaction gives us ideas about what to do in the future with some of our new blends.
“We always see lots of rubs and hot sauces. But I’ve noticed that there are a lot more spicy jellies. That seems to be the hot item this year.”
Taking the road less traveled, Dan Waters, owner of The Caramel Candy Company, only offered sweets, not spicy items at ZestFest.
“This is candy to put out the fire,” Waters said. “Everyone is on fire, and they come by here to cool off. We seem to be one of the most popular booths here. We are one of the few candy booths. All of the other candies seem to have some sort of a hot sauce or hot pepper in it. Ours is just home-made caramel.
“I think ZestFest is great. It’s our first time here, and we’ll definitely be back.”