Rambler Newspapers

Serving Irving, Coppell and Grand Prairie

Texas Heat Burns and Pleases Taste Buds

Irving—The Irving Convention Center hosted the 25th annual ZestFest, a celebration of hot, spicy, and zesty foods, June 4 – 6. The event welcomed around 8,000 attendees from all over the world.

In January of 2011 when the Irving Convention Center first opened, its inaugural event was ZestFest.

The Fiery Food Challenge awards show, presented during ZestFest, recognizes “hot, really hot, spicy and zesty foods, and fiery food-related products,” per its official description. Winners of the awards receive a ‘Golden Chile’ trophy. Over 1,000 creations were sent from cooks around the globe living in places like Slovakia, Australia, and Hungary.

“They’re the Oscars,” Brent Deen, son of Eddie Deen, chef and restaurateur of five establishments in north Texas, said.

“You see so many things here you don’t see anywhere else,” Logan Bagarozy, vice president of Spicy Foods Productions and owner of Zest Fest, said. “If you want it, it’s here. Especially if you love the super-hot stuff. We’ve got Puckerbutt, whose owner Smokin’ Ed Currie, is the inventor of the hottest pepper in the world: the Carolina Reaper.

“Obviously, that’s not for everyone. There is just as much stuff that’s mild through extra and ultra-hot. A lot of attendees say, ‘I like the mild stuff.’ Here there’s anything you can imagine. There’s black garlic hot sauces, miso, ginger, different mustards. It’s known for fire, but it’s just as much flavor.”

ZestFest is home to some of the most unique foods on the planet. Among them were the world’s hottest gummy bear, ghost pepper cotton candy, ghost pepper peanut brittle, habanero toffee, and Carolina Reaper cheesecake. Naturally, stands sold milk throughout the festival.

The Carolina Reaper, certified by the Guinness Book of World Records in August 2017 as the globe’s hottest pepper, was prevalent throughout ZestFest. Ed Currie’s Puckerbutt Pepper Company hosted a jalapeño eating contest on Sunday.

On Saturday, WingStop threw an Atomic Wing eating contest, featuring the chain’s spiciest flavor.

Saturday night was capped off by Eddie Deen’s Pig Roast.

Brent and Eddie were two of many celebrity chefs who presented cooking demonstrations. The main stage offered live music between demonstrations. Brent has been coming to ZestFest every year since it opened Irving’s Convention Center ten years ago.

“I like the vendors, and I like the concept,” Brent said. “Every one of these people here is an artist. There are no commodities. It’s all art. Everybody’s trying to communicate from their soul, and they’re using hot sauce as a platform to do it. If you’re committing that much to a product, you have to be coming from your soul, and that’s what these guys do. They have passion.”

Vic Clinco, the general manager of Hot Shots Distributing, was another celebrity guest. With nearly 10,000 different bottles, he owns one of the world’s largest hot sauce collections.

“I’ve been traveling to ZestFest for about 17 years,” Clinco said. “I started as a collector, coming out and buying as much hot sauce as I possibly could from all the booths. After about five years, a very good friend who works for Cajohn’s Fiery Foods tells me, ‘You’re always here, so we might as well just put you to work.’ The wife and I jumped in and started helping him, and we have been here ever since.

“This show is near and dear to my heart, and I really like the area. Folks have been absolutely fantastic. When the crowds roll in, they’re super excited to be here. It’s fun that they come back to see you every single year, and they remember the sauces you brought last year, and of course, they want you to bring the same ones. It’s neat.

“I run a thing called the execution station, an eight sauce, hot sauce challenge. I typically start off with a milder sauce, a ghost pepper base sauce. Then each sauce gets progressively hotter as you go. You may get to the other end of the table. If you don’t pass out on me, you don’t throw up on my table, you get some cool swag.

“It’s like a dream come true for somebody who started out just looking for hot sauce and liking hot sauce. Now I’m actually working in the industry.”