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The Dorset Chilli Festival

21 Aug

 Open Wide Delicious Mango Hot Sauce

  

  

Gone are the days when British cuisine equates to meat and two veg,  not only is London one of the gastronomic capitals of the world nowadays but the whole country has seen vast changes in its typical cuisine. A few years ago curry, or more specifically Chicken Tikka Masala, overtook the archetypal Fish ‘n Chips as the nation’s favourite (and most eaten) dish.  There has been a growing trend in particular for chilli peppers and  they seem to be getting hotter and hotter ever since the UK took the crown for the world’s hottest chilli in 1995 with the Dorset Naga. In fact this year has already seen the Guinness Book of Records crown change hands twice by competing British Chilli farmers. Firstly the Infinity Chilli, grown in Lincolnshire by Fire Foods owner Nick Woods – however he was quickly dethroned a fortnight later by the Naga Viper grown by Gerard Fowler, owner of The Chilli Pepper Company in Cumbria.

For those non-chilli aficionados, chilies are measured in scovilles indicating how much capsaicin is in the chilli to give it that burning heat. The Naga Viper comes in at an eye-watering 1.3 million SHU (scovilles). To make a comparison a jalapeno is about 3000 SHU, tabasco sauce 5000 SHU and a habanero chilli somewhere between 100,000-250,000 SHU.

With the Dorset Naga now being sold in mainstream retailers such as Tesco’s, it can no longer be considered a niche product. The Great Dorset Chilli Festival is cashing in on this trend and on the already internationally renowned native chili with its first ever festival. I’ll now give a lo-down of the highlights and lolights.

Top 5 Highlights

1) The Chilli Eating Competiton

Well I lost my chilli-contest virginity at the Dorset Chilli Festival, although it wasn’t quite the baptism of fire it could have been seen as I was a spectator and not a contestant, (un?!)fortunately after having to pull out of the competition on medical grounds before it even began. I did however manage to get front row tickets to the Chilli Eating Contest on day 1, maximum respect to all the contestants who did manage to take part as it looked like pure hell. Starting off all nice and friendly, with what looked like a sweet pepper; each contestant had to eat a sequence of entire chilies, seeds and all, without drinking any milk or using the indiscreetly placed sick bucket at any stage. There were 10 chilies starting from mild moving on to hot, really hot and then so-absolutely-insanely-dangerous-it-could-be-used-instead-of-CS-gas. This was a competition to really separate the men from the boys with the two finalists getting to chilli number 9, at this point they both decided they had had enough and didn’t want to do themselves any more damage. We could all see they were in pain at this point but the crowd were still calling for them to do more, I felt a bit like a roman in the Colosseum shouting for more Christians to be thrown to the lions.

  

  

   

2) Mango Hot Sauce from the Wiltshire Chilli Farm – www.justchillies.co.uk

 

Picking just one product from the Wiltshire Farm was actually the hardest part, there were seveal really high quality exhibitors at the Dorset Chilli Fesitval but this one really stuck out. First of all the Mango Hot Sauce was delicious, spicy yet sweet without being too sweet, it’s the perfect blend. But there were also some other greats sauces, Chipotle, Habanero, Chilli Jams, make-your-own Chilli Chocolate kits and many more. Plus the man who runs the company was very friendly and told us about how one day he decided to become a chilli farmer and what his wife said when he came home with 60ft polytunnels. He also gave me and my two friends a great tasting bhut jolokia chilli which helped me make an incredibly curry this week. These sauces combined with those stories really helped add to the chili experience.

3) Jalopy Pizza – www.jalopypizza.co.uk

Jalopy Pizza is the best pizza I’ve ever had outside of Italy! The thin base is covered in a rich passata sauce with just enough topping to be generous without it overpowering the rest of the base, it’s all about ratios and Jalopy Pizza have them down to a T. The old-skool Peugeot van gave it a funky retro feel too. On the down side it did take 50 minutes to arrive but I’m not sure if this was more to do with the wholly inadequate catering provision on site or if it always takes this long, they certainly made everything from fresh though that’s for sure.  Shame they are based 3 hours drive from London or I might be a regular!

 

 4) 10 minute burn sauce – The Chilli Pepper Company – www.chileseeds.co.uk

My Malaysian friend Vijay was visiting London for a few days on business when he called me to tell me he was in town and did we want to meet up. I told him I was going to a chilli festival about 3 hours southwest of London, and that it was in Dorset where the former world’s hottest chilli was from and asked him if he wanted to come. Vijay scoffed at the idea that we could have hotter chillis in UK than exist in Malaysia – however after tasting the 10 minute burn he was quickly sold to the idea! I will try and get the video we took from trying this put up, but it was crazyily hot. What none of us realised at the time was that this was from Gerard Fowler, who was in the Guinness Book of Records with the hottest chilli in the world the Naga Viper. I’ve eaten a lot of chilli before but this was really on another level.

5) Caribbean Dipping Sauce – The Chilli Garden Hampshire – www.thechilligarden.co.uk/

The Caribbean Dipping Sauce is like a chilli jam with a real kick to it but is the most vibrantly orange colour it makes it instantly stand out from the crowd. Great taste, great texture, great jam.

 

Lo-Lights of Festival

Now it was the first ever Dorset Chili Festival and as an events manager I know only too well that it’s very hard to run events, especially new ones. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt this time round  but there were some areas that need to made better for next year.

  • Not enough Catering provision – there was nowhere near enough hot food on sale, they certainly missed a trick with food and drink as queues were horrendous and choice sparce – many people gave up and didnt bother.
  • Not enough entertainment – The Chilli Eating contest was fantastic and got a huge crowd, some cooking demonstrations or other sort of interactive session would have gone down well – as would a more prominent stage with musicans on.
  •  The moment we walked through the door we were confronted by an irate couple demanding their money back; “You’re charging £7.50 for us to buy stuff from a few stalls” she said, not a good first impression.
  • General cheap feel to it, some of the marquee tents were dirty, unkempt and seemed like they were pre-WW2. There wasn’t enough seating, the layout wasn’t even and the field untidy. Also the event programme looked like someone had made it on Microsoft Word, printed it on orange paper at home and stapled them together.
  • Exhibitors on marketing that weren’t at show – there were quite a few, making me think that no deposits were taken from exhibitors before the marketing went to print. Easy to be rectified for next time.
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Foodie Festival @ Battersea Park

6 Aug

sipping a mojito to keep cool, that's the excuse anyway  Hendrick's Gin

Sour Bread Orchard Pigs Pies Scrimshaw's pies Toffoc

Well the warmest weekend of the year so far (29th-31st July) was the perfect excuse to bring people out from off their sofas watching Saturday Kitchen and into a small piece of gastronomic paradise by the river Thames in London’s Battersea Park for the Foodie Festival, one of 7 locations for the foodie festival run across the country. At £15 entrance per person it certainly wasn’t cheap, but for those of us who managed to get a deal (Groupon £15 for 2 people) and spent ALL Saturday AND all Sunday there it certainly felt like it was worth the money, especially with all the free tasters on offer! The Foodie festival had over 100 exhibitors selling a plethora of high-end local and not-so-local produce, from Jamaican rum (Koko Kanu) and zebra & kangaroo burgers (tuckers) to baked bean chocolates (The chocolatier) and game pies from Wrexham (orchard pigs). Then there were the culinary demonstrations some top chefs, some with michellin stars, unfortunately the tickets ran out for these shows pretty quickly so I missed out but did manage to catch a wine and food matching session which was great!

There were so many great stalls there I could write about them all day, but instead I’ll try and list a few highlights.

Coeur de Cognac red chillis Paella from Casa

Top 5 sweets of show

1) The Chocolatierwww.the-chocolatier.co.uk

The Chocolatier's innovative and delicious chocolates

Absolutely one of the show’s highlights was “The Chocolatier”, first and foremost there is no butter or cream so it’s lower fat than most chocolate, which made me feel all the better for scoffing my way through a bag of 7 delectable chocolates still wanting more. A relatively new outfit, The Chocolatier is a charming young londoner called Aneesh who had a scientific background as well a passion for chocolate so decided to morph them together in an East vs West fusion that includes flavours such as banana & clove, chai massala, caradom, wasabi, salted caramel and my personal favourite, chilli & lime. The Chocolatier makes all his chocolate at home at the moment, hopefully he will get enough business to move into a shop somewhere in London soon – and I’ll be there everyday!

Chilli and Lime was amazing, and baked bean was surprisingly good - try it!

2) Joe and Seph’s Gourmet Popcornwww.joeandsephs.co.uk

Gourmet Popcorn

When I stayed with a French family in a suburb just outside Grenoble (Saint-Martin-le-Vinoux) whilst taking a French language course, I asked to be put with a family who were interested in gastronomy and politics, my two passions in life. I was rewarded by being placed in a household where the father was an excellent cook. At first we struggled to communicate with my broken French however I remember clearly one day he told me about a previous American student who had stayed there. He scorned in utter contempt at the mere thought of retelling me the story of this food-hating North American fiend. She would refuse to eat any of the food that Bernard would make (which was French restaurant in UK standard) and instead insisted that he stock up on popcorn as she wouldn’t eat anything else. I can see the scowl on Bernard’s face no as he splutters the word: “pop-corn”. If there one reason for me to go back to France, then it’s to take Bernard some Joe & Seph’s gourmet popcorn – perhaps to even send the American student some too!

Goumet and popcorn are not two words I have often associated with each other but I was pleasantly surprised, I wouldn’t replace it for Bernard’s Tartiflette or Gratin Dauphinois but it certainly is a tasty snack with some very interesting flavours such as Caramel, Mirin, Soya & Sesame or Goats Cheese and Black Pepper. However my favourite had to be the Smooth Caramel, Pepper & Chilli which starts off sweet in your mouth for about 2-3 seconds, then moves to the intense taste of black pepper and just when you thought it was all over the kick of chilli!

3) The Little Round Cake Company – www.thelittleroundcakecompany.co.uk

it was almost too pretty to eat, almostGetting in on the tweeners scene

Next was The Little Round Cake Company with their sweet and moist tweeners, with a great homemade look and taste to match- the jam & cream tweener was particularly nice. Although I hadn’t actually heard the term “tweener” in regards to food before, I guess I’m not really very cutting edge!

4) Montezuma’s Chocolatewww.montezumas.co.uk

Montezuma's Chocolate

Montezuma’s chocolate was great, lots of different flavours including a British Range  which makes a good present for anyone not from UK so we discovered! Spotted Dick,  Eton Mess and Apple Crumble all high recommended. Although why it’s Venezuelan chocolate with a Mexican name I didn’t quite discover, hoping that the Chocolate it’s going to give me Montezuma’s revenge!

5) Auberge Du Chocolatwww.aubergechocolat.co.uk

Chilli chocolate

Before I lived in Mexico in 2004-05,  I don’t ever remember hearing of any of the spicy-sweet delicacies the Mexicans have on offer there, yet over the past few years I’m almost tripping over Chilli-Chocolate which seems to be everywhere, even in the major supermarkets. I’m still waiting for the day that Tesco starts selling little pinapple chunks with chilli sweets in the pick & mix section, or the Odeon leaves out Salsa Valentina for people to splash all over their salted popcorn at the cinema!  Auberge du Chocolat’s chilli chocolate disk was great though and I’d certainly buy it again.

Top 5 Best of the Rest

1) Kobe Beef Burger at Tuckers – www.tuckers-exotics.co.uk 

Tuckers Exotic Meat Shack

I must have visited Tucker’s at least 4-5 times over the 2 days and was only disappointed once (Zebra burger, dry and not particularly tasty either). Exotic meats seem to be ever-growing in popularity as we look for healthier alternatives to beef. The big menu board lists Tucker’s “big 5” with fat and calorie content inside:

  • Ostrich kcal142, fat 3 grams
  • Buffalo kcal149, fat 2.4 grams
  • Wildebeest kcal150, fat 2.6 grams
  • Springbok kcal149, fat 4.4 grams
  • Wild Boar  kcal181, fat 4.9 grams

The Ostrich burger had a mild but succulent flavour and is famed for being low in fat & choloestorol yet high in protein and iron. My favourite of the day though was the slightly more expensive Kobe Beef Burger at £7 which seemed a bargain as the quality of the beef was incredible, succulent, tender, mouth-watering – delicious! And their relish was pretty good too.

 The kobe beef burger

2) Chilli Jam from Chillyfilly – www.chillyfilly.com

  

I always feel as if a food festival is not a REAL food festival unless there is some chilli jam somewhere along the lines and Chillyfilly were happy to oblige. The hot tomato chilli jam wasn’t particularly hot, but was very tasty – apparently it lasts about a month in the fridge once opened, they’ll be lucky!

3) Gelee de Vin (wine jelly) from Made in Provence – www.madeinprovence.co.uk 

gelee de vin Made in Provence

With so many great stalls at the exhibition, it takes something a bit different or special to grab my attention at a food fair, and when I heard there was cote du rhone in the gelee de vin that was it for me! A must try and it didn’t disappoint, unfortunately I then went on to try the raspberry vinagarette which was so sharp and sour that i almost knocked me on the floor! It must be an acquired taste that I’m too much of a philistine to really appreciate, either way it didn’t take anything away from the wine jelly.

4) The King’s Ginger liquer – www.thekingsginger.com

King's Ginger 

First time I’d ever tried a ginger liqeur, very fresh, sharp but not ridiculous like the raspberry vinaigrette – a bit like crabbies alcoholic ginger beer but without the sickly sweet sugary syrup. The King’s Ginger seems to play on the Victorian British image a lot, it was apparently invented in 1903 by Berry Bros (300 yr old English wine merchants) for King Edward VII, they even had vintage girl model/journalist Fleur de Guerre promoting their drink on the stall. I was a little surprised to see  made in Holland on the bottle though!

5) St Germain Elderflower liqueur – www.stgermain.fr

A French Elderflower liqeur, St Germain market themselves as a fruity summer alternative to Pimms with more scope for mixing – I’ll be trying to find some somewhere in London for a BBQ in a couple of weeks. Not sure if anyone else knows where to get one in London?