In our previous post about the Fiery Foods Show at the North Market here in Columbus, OH, I mentioned that there would be a Chile Pepper Eating Contest. Now I (Joe) had never participated in anything like this before, so my mind could not wrap itself around what sort of gastronomic torture awaited me. After most of the other festivities for the day had ended, me and five other capsaicin gladiators arrived to test our mettle at consuming the gamut of chile pepper heat. Let me walk you all through the competition through the pictures below….
First up was the pepper on the left in this picture, the Anaheim chile. They rated it at a 1/10 on the heat scale, and we only had to take but a single bite to pass this hurdle. For those who remember the Bozo Show on WGN, this was akin to tossing that ping pong ball in the first bucket…no sweat! I always thought Anaheim were a little warmer than a ‘1′, but these certainly weren’t. One huge bite and off we went to level 2!
Next up, on the right, was a Jalapeno chile. Rated on the heat scale as 3/10, we had to consume half the pepper. It was here that my devious plan came into focus. As long as I stayed away from the seeds & placental tissue of the pepper, I might just survive. Jalapeno, shmalapeno, this one wasn’t much more challenging than the Anaheim.
Next up on the hit parade was the Serrano chile, rated at 7/10 on the heat scale. I’ve always liked Serrano pepper sauces, but had a healthy respect for their heat. Again, our task was to consume half the pepper only, so it’s a long enough pepper to take a healthy bite without worrying about reaching the seeds. Now, the capsaicinoids were starting to make their presence known. I looked at the bottle of water that we each were given, but decided to hold off for dealing with the more macho peppers.
The halfway point was reached with the Fresno chile. Admittedly, I didn’t know what to expect from this pepper…either in taste or from its heat. Again our task was to eat half the pepper, which was more challenging since the pepper is shorter but broader, which means the seeds are closer to the bite point. I found myself chewing and gnawing the pepper flesh around the sides to consume my needed half, and lazily tossed the remnant into our “finished” bucket. My tongue was starting to complain a little more, but hey…the worst was yet to come!
Now is where I thought we’d see some separation of the wheat from the chaff. The next rung up the capsaicin ladder was the Jamaican Hot Pepper. I thought those were technically Scotch Bonnets, but I saw actually saw those in the next bowl. Whatever they were, they rated a 9/10 on the scale. As a surprise, we were told that we would have to eat one of the red ones AND one of the green ones. I ate the half pepper I needed to do of each, but this was followed by the first sip from my water bottle. I looked around, and no one else had flinched to this point…even to take a sip of water. Now this was some serious competition!
Next up, the Scotch Bonnet chile. These are kin to the habanero pepper and yes, I feared a bite out of this one. We were instructed to eat half once again, and I nearly caught a big mouthful of seeds on this one…which would have likely done me in. Lucklily I was able to chew around the fleshy parts again, even to the point of consuming almost three-fourths of the pepper. Maybe the capsaicin was wrecking my brain a little, but I thought this one tasted pretty good. Scotch Bonnet…DONE!
With my mouth sizzling, we were coming down the home stretch. Our next torture device was the Thai chile, of which we had to eat one of red and one of green. Now here’s the rub about Thai chiles and I knew this before I bit into one…they are thin-skinned peppers and had a heck of a lot of seeds. Our delegated task was to eat three-fourths of each, which I was barely able to do. If the other peppers had simply lit my pilot light, well the fire in my mouth was now on high heat.
Finally, we reached the chile pepper endgame. Yes, big mama Habanero chile. Orange little bombs of capsaicin-laced hell, one of which was destined to inflict its wrath on my already-fried tastebuds. With the crowd cheering (or was that moans of sympathy), we were given our last task…eat half the habanero. I remember thinking that habaneros do have such a pleasant taste, and then every pore on my head opened up and started to flood. Nearly sobbing, I hastily took two long gulps of water and looked around to check out how my competition was doing. To my (and everyone else’s) surprise, not a single one of the five other contestants failed in their quest to eat all the peppers given to them. In short, we ALL won the contest.
Victory! Victory! If my tongue wasn’t on fire, I would have reveled in it a little more. After gathering my prize swag ($25 in gift certificates at the North Market…which I quickly spent), I hung around shmoozing with one of the other contestants and with John Hard from CaJohn’s about the contest. Since I was the only one who didn’t flee after the contest ended, I was gifted with the lovely trophy you see above. I never thought I would get any sort of prize for this sorta eating contest, but I’ll bear this with a certain sense of pride. After all, I may have to defend my title again next year.
One really cool thing to add, though. Food Network sent some folks from the Emeril Live show there to do some filming, and they definitely caught the folly that was the contest. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to see myself on TV and re-live this whole experience. Maybe I’ll do it while drinking a nice, cold glass of milk.