The Art of Chile Peppers: The 23rd Chile Pepper Festival
The Chile Pepper Festival returned to Brooklyn Botanical Garden for its 23rd time this September.
Festivalgoers sampled chili pepper products from some 60 vendors while listening to live music from zydeco band Jeffery Broussard & The Creole Cowboys as well as Algerian Hip-Hop, or Jamaican Reggae. The different chili products ranged from hot sauces, to oils, chocolate and rubs, making the festival an all out chili celebration!
Chile is truly a product from the Americas. Originally from Oaxaca in todays Mexico, the chile spread around the world on the backs of the Portuguese and Spanish trading empires. Initially brought to Europe by Columbus, chile peppers spread through the Mediterranean basin, to India and the Far East as the Portuguese and Spanish set up their trading stations further east.
According to researcher Paul Rozin, eating chile peppers can be compared to riding a roller coaster. The pleasure is derived from engaging in a semi-dangerous or painful situation, while knowing that the danger is not real. Similar to the roller coaster, chile eating produces a strange form of arousal because you leave the situation unscathed.
One of my favorite products at the festival was The Bronx Hot Sauce. Partly grown in community gardens tended to by “teenagers as an alternative to incarceration” the sauce has made some headlines in the New York Times recently. The recipe is a simple concoction of five ingredients but the taste is phenomenal.
Momo Dressing is another vendor of handmade Japanese salad dressings that produced wonderful chile inspired food. Their Edamame Dip or Creamy Jalapeno had a subtle chile taste. What they do not deliver in raw heat they give you in complexity. Their dips are all GMO-free and contain items such as lime juice and rice vinegar which produce a smoother pairing with the chile they use.
Chile chocolate was also a festival favorite. Putting chile peppers in chocolate is not a new thing. When Spanish conquistador Cortez first came into contact with the Aztecs he discovered liquid chocolate flavored with chili pepper. In those days the drink was served cold and it was not sweet as our modern chocolate. The Chile Pepper festival had a whole array of different types of chocolate from pure chile peppers thinly clad with chocolate to blocks of chocolate with hints of the spice plant, making it possible to follow the development of chocolate from the time of Cortez.
Chile peppers are now more readily consumed by everyone thanks to the influence of global cuisines that have been using chiles for centuries. A perfect way to add a subtle or not-so subtle kick to any dish you make--whether its in a sauce, soup or even dessert! If the turn-out of this festival is an indication of anything, it should be how beloved the chile pepper has become.