Things got fiery down at the Immigration Museum on Sunday 19 April, and what could be better on a day that saw alternating rain, shine, and an icy cold wind. Chilli Fest is the latest in a series of culturally mouth-watering events run by our friends at Museum Victoria as part of the North South Feast West program.
There has been an evening cantina with a pop-up bar, music, and authentic street food — and a festival of chocolate. In their latest cultural feast, the chilli was the star. For an often tiny member of the pepper family, it really packed a punch in sauces, cocktails, beers, ice cream, tacos and barbecued delights.
Always keen to explore any sort of culinary world, the sauce market on the first floor and was high on my list of priorities. Testing my pain threshold, on the other hand, is not something I associate with delightful eating. So, while others pushed their limit with pepper products described as ‘infernal’, ‘nuclear’, and ‘the hottest pepper product ever produced’, I was happy that hot sauce doesn’t necessarily have to mean streaming eyes and a burning mouth.
With ten enthusiastic vendors, there was plenty to choose from in terms of hot sauce and the full range of mild to eye-bulging, tongue-hanging-out heat.
There were some standout sauces with great back stories. I always love a good story and my favourite sauce with accompanying tale came from Wagga Wagga. Crowley’s Hot Sauce is quite literally an organic business that grew from a seed five years ago. Two seeds germinated for Jason’s son produced a crop of chillis. A batch of sauce, some encouragement from friends, and Jason Crowley hasn’t looked back. With the mantra ‘flavour first, heat second’, his sauces embrace a rich and smoky flavour profile with just enough heat to balance both the delicate and robust ingredients he uses.
Diemen’s Hot Sauce is the creation of two Canadians living in Melbourne who after lamenting the lack in Australia of hot sauce as they knew it, set about to change that. Using the Tasmanian pepperberry as the base of their sauce, the flavour profile is rich with more of a Sichuan peppery kick than the sharpness of chilli.
Melbourne Hot Sauce is a small batch industry started by chef Richard five years ago when he felt frustrated at not being able to find the flavour profile he wanted in a hot sauce.
Saori’s Hot Sauce is a Japanese hot sauce made by Saori, who came to Melbourne with her husband four years ago. With a desire to educate and help people discover healthy and tasty Japanese food, Saori provides recipes and advice for using her sauce range.
Once the fine line between pleasure and pain had been walked at the sauce market, it was time to enjoy the festive atmosphere of the ground floor courtyard. With smoky goodness provided by Burn City Smokers, great sounds from DJs and live bands, a range of delicious drinks, and sweet and savoury delights, this was the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Jo Rittey is a freelance writer and French teacher caught up in the myth she can cram as much as possible into every day, devouring life like a large crème brûlée.
The next event on the North South Feast West program is the Coffee Festival on 14 June. Mark your calendars, all you caffiends.