The NYC Hot Sauce Expo, organizer Jimmy Carbone says, grew out of a small event focused on artisanal producers of all sorts of different edible goods. But “most of them were making hot sauce,” he says, which prompted him to shift gears and create a festival that showcases hundreds of versions of the condiment, a party that draws dozens of producers from all over the country.
The second annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo went off at the Penn Plaza Pavilions over the weekend, and over the course of two days, pepper fiends tasted their way through tongue-tickling, sweat-inducing bottlings, some so fearsomely hot, they caused eaters to have intensely dramatic reactions (we watched more than one person crouch in a corner and put their head between their knees after braving a drop of some brands; they’d stand up pale, sweaty, and dizzy-looking).
A number of contests punctuated the tasting sessions — bartenders from all over the city competed in a bloody mary mix-off (the winner was from Staten Island’s Karl’s Klipper), and then eight brave souls went head to head in an officially sanctioned Guinness Book of World Records contest to eat three reaper peppers — the spiciest pepper in the world — faster than anyone else on the planet. All eight handled the peppers like pros — they had to stand on the stage for a full minute after swallowing the last one to make sure the chilies didn’t come back up — but the fastest more or less inhaled his, not even pausing to chew.
There was plenty of beer available to put out fires, but we didn’t need the buzz — after a few tastes, the capsaicin began to make us high.
The whole event was weird and wonderful — and something we’d definitely attend again.
Take a gander at our photos here, and then head over to the slideshow to experience it bite by bite.