Brooklyn heats up with chile pepper festival

Antiguan Sonya Samuel holds her “Baccanal Pepper Sauce” and her “Mango Hot Sauce,” both Caribbean-inspired with tropical fruits and peppers.
Tequila Minsky

Brooklyn heats up with chile peppers

Brooklynites who like their foods hot and spicy flocked to the 23rd Brooklyn Botanical Gardens Chile Festival and sampled “the spicy” poured or dipped onto corn or plantain chips. Tongues tingled and mouths sometimes burned.

Not afraid to dive into the depths of peppery, locals crowded the booths to taste hot sauces, salsas, jams and jellies, honey, kimchi, horseradish and herbs with varying degrees of heat. Many of these vendors source their hot peppers locally from nearby farmers or even closer like A&B American Style Pepper Sauce that harvests peppers grown on a rooftop garden at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

On-site, some artisanal vendors brought inspiration from their varied ethnic heritages: Malaysian, Moroccan, Korean, Indian-influenced sauces and Senegalese-inspired condiments.

Antiguan Sonya Samuel sells two varieties of her “Bacchanal Sauce,” a sauce she developed with the tropical fruit flavors and spices of her Caribbean roots. “It’s not just about the heat,” she says of her sauce, “My focus is on flavor.” Along with the habanero, scotch bonnet or ghost peppers are tamarind, pineapple, lime and papaya.

Her newest and less hot creation is her “Mango Hot Sauce.” “It’s a trip to the Caribbean,” she likes to say of her sauces that go well on cheese boards and meats. She emphatically proclaims that in the Caribbean, “We use it for everything.”

Based in Crown Heights, Ms. Samuel is very new in the pepper sauce business. Three years ago, at this very same festival she was introduced to local cook-offs for home cooks in Brooklyn. She began competing. At the Googa Mooga food festival in Prospect Park, with a theme of “my hot sauce is hotter than yours,” she fused heat with flavor and placed in the peoples choice category. “People kept asking where they could buy more.”

Now, this primarily one-woman show sources her peppers from New Jersey Farmers Markets (and freezing them for when they’re out of season), uses a commercial kitchen in Bushwick, and sells her Caribbean-influenced hot sauces on-line and gourmet stores in Brooklyn.

At the Festival, on the other end of the quantity of selections spectrum is 303 Salsas offering a wide variety of salsas artfully concocted by Cantina Royal’s (Mexican restaurant in Willamsburg) executive chef Julio Mora. Twelve of the brand’s 51 varieties were lined up by increasing degrees of heat for festivalgoers to sample.

Mexican Chef Mora studied French culinary techniques in Mexico City but it was the influence of his mother and her use of spices that inspired him to create salsas. Mora won the 2012 “Hot and Spicy Iron Chef’s Competition” in Toronto.

Torchbearer Sauces traveled from central Pennsylvania with blistering sauces carrying names like “Psycho Curry,” “Trinidadian Scorpion Pepper Sauce,” “Ultimate Annihilation Sauce,” and “Zombie Apocalypse Ghost Chili Hot Sauce.” Their booth was not far from the EMS station.

On the sweeter side, while some Brooklynites lined up for spicy ice cream, others sampled salt water taffy with a kick. Chocolate delectables spiced with chilies also tantalized festivalgoers.

Meanwhile all afternoon, on the “Chile Stage,” five bands — Latino, French-Algerian, New Orleans Zydeco, Jamaican, and West African with sizzling sounds — entertained during the Indian Summer day.

The zydeco of Jeffery Broussard & The Creole Cowboys from Louisiana were one of the five bands performing sizzling sounds during the full-day Chile Festival.
Tequila Minsky

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