Have y’all seen that video of the Danish National Chamber Orchestra eating the hottest chile pepper in the world and then trying to play? It goes pretty much how you’d expect. The musicians manage to hold it together for about the first minute before the song starts unraveling. Tears ensue.
Since humankind started harvesting chiles there has been a subset of enthusiastic, arguably masochistic eaters who are fanatical about spicy food. Though I couldn’t really count myself amongst the ranks of the more extreme of them, I definitely appreciate a little heat—there’s a half-empty jar of homemade habañero hot sauce in my fridge that proves my point. For those who do count themselves among the spicy food faithful, though, there’s a place to gather where you can be among your own kind: the Fiery Foods Show.
This weekend, the 31st annual National Fiery Foods and Barbecue Show is coming to Sandia Resort and Casino. March 1 through 3, visitors can come to sample upwards of 1,000 different products from 200 different exhibitors. Products for sample include salsas and hot sauces, of course, but also more interesting variations on the theme like spicy desserts, jerky and everything in between.
Dave Dewitt, the founding producer of the Fiery Foods Show and author of The Complete Chile Pepper Book and 1,001 Best Hot and Spicy Recipes, says that he founded the show over 30 years ago knowing that it was an idea whose time had come. He was working as a freelance writer covering the food beat in Las Cruces at the time, and had always been a spicy foods fan himself. After covering a chile pepper festival in the area, he came away thinking about all the other products that chile peppers go into that didn’t make an appearance. “I remember thinking: It’s an over billion dollar industry without a trade show—that’s odd,” he says.
In a previous life he had worked as a show producer, mainly producing car shows, antique shows and flea markets. He knew he had the skills and the connections to make a spicy foods trade show happen, and the gears started turning. He enlisted his wife to sell booths over the phone (“And damn if she didn’t do a great job,” he remarks) and booked a space in a hotel lobby for the first year’s show. “We only had 47 exhibitors at that first show. We made a $100 profit!” he says, laughing. It’s not much of a profit to report—but for an event in its first year, simply not going into the negative is an impressive feat. He was encouraged, and decided to do it again the next year.
“We moved to the convention center one year, then into a 30,000 square foot space, then a 60,000 space, and then Sandia offered us 3 years free rent to hold the event there,” Dewitt says. Accepting the offer was a no-brainer, and attendance went up 40 percent after the move. He suspects the show will stay at Sandia Resort and Casino for as long as he’s around to host it.
A couple of Dewitt’s favorite returning exhibitors are Byron Bay Chilli Co., a hot sauce manufacturer from Byron Bay, Australia, and the grower of the world-famous Carolina Reaper peppers, now acknowledged as the hottest pepper in the world. “You have to taste that hot sauce on the end of a toothpick,” he says. Larger doses of the stuff have been known to cause unfortunate and uncontrollable reactions among tasters.
On Saturday and Sunday, the main events will be three 505 Food Fights, when three chefs from New Mexico restaurants will battle in a Chopped-style showdown to make the best dish by popular vote. The finale, which will pit the two winners from the previous battles against each other, is Sunday at 1:30pm.
That said, Dewitt recommends coming to the show on Friday evening if you want to avoid the big crowds. The doors are open 4 to 8pm on Friday, and the aisles will be a little less packed then—“good for those handicapped and in wheelchairs,” says Dewitt. On Saturday the show is open from 11am to 7pm, and on Sunday from 10am to 6pm.
Tickets for the National Fiery Foods and Barbecue Show are $15.50 per day of the show and available for purchase at fieryfoodsshow.com. Tickets for children 11 to 18 are $5 and only available at the door, and children 10 or under get in free. The show involves as many free samples as you can stomach, and all the products are available for purchase as well.