Prospect Park

Brooklyn Botanic Garden holds 25th Annual Chile Pepper Festival

October 3, 2017 By Andy Katz Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Cherry Esplanade is lined with artisan booths and visitors listening to Red Baraat. Eagle photos by Andy Katz

“Just how hot is that one?” is the question one heard most frequently along the Botanic Garden’s Cherry Esplanade during the its 25th Annual Chile Pepper Festival on Oct. 1.

“Just how hot do you want it?” is the commonest reply.

The day couldn’t be more perfect — a bright, clear October weekend of the sort that for decades has led New Yorkers to insist that early autumn is the best time to visit the Big Apple.

This year’s festival brought nearly 50 food vendors, many of the them Brooklyn-based, into the Garden’s Cherry Esplanade, their stalls arrayed before the stage where Red Baraat, Battle of Santiago, Ladama and Lost Bayou Ramblers performed.

This year producers are divided. The dozen or so that specialize in spiced chocolates and other combinations of hot and sweet occupy the Esplanade’s south end, where a sign proclaims “Chocolate Debauchery” and promises “Hot Chocolate Tastings” until 6 p.m.

“This is the first time the confectioners have been put together in one section,” Sarah Meyer of Plainview’s Little Bird, Curious Confections, explains. When asked if it paid off, she nodded. “We’re doing great this year. This is our fourth time here, but this year is going exceptionally well!”

Nearby, Laurie & Sons offers Chili-Chocolate Mallomars and a Moroccan Spiced Chocolate and Toffee Crumble. Jo Mart Chocolates passes out samples of its AllStar Firecracker — which include chipotle and habanero — in order to better illustrate its phrase: “Life Tastes Better with Chocolate.”

“This is by far the coolest and best event in Brooklyn,” Jon Payson, founder of Park Slope’s The Chocolate Room, insisted as he stirred the Room’s signature hot chile chocolate drink in a large, heated crock. “We developed both of our chile products specifically for this festival.” The Chocolate Room hums as a family affair with Payson’s niece, two daughters and a friend of the family manning the stall, which boasts one of the longest lines early in the festival day.

“This marks the change in season for us,” Payson added, noting that spicy chocolate dishes are more popular in cooler weather, a contrast to their savory counterparts, which are typically associated with warmer climes.

Rounding out the spiced chocolate and hot honey vendors were ice cream makers who had managed to blend chiles into their frosty convections.

“Do you have vanilla?” a customer asked one of the Oddfellows Ice Cream servers.

The answer was no. Oddfellows, with locations in Williamsburg and Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, presented instead a habanero-infused sorbet sprinkled with crispy chiles that chills the tongue while setting taste buds ablaze. No small achievement from a vendor that has mastered the Chorizo Caramel Swirl and Foie Gras.

“This began as performance,” Chile Fest rookie Shaquanda Coco Mulatta recounted, while offering passersby samples of Shaquanda’s Hot Pepper Sauce. The sauce was developed as a way for Shaquanda to perform in the mouths of others after she was invited to participate in Bushwig 2013. It’s now produced in large scale in Bay Ridge.

Small Axe Peppers presented its The Bronx and Queens hot sauces, made with peppers grown in NYC community gardens. All proceeds from sales at the Chile Fest were earmarked for Puerto Rico hurricane relief.

Zia Green Chile Pepper Company principal Elliott Anderson loaded the last of their Hatch chile peppers into a gas-powered chile pepper roaster before setting the flame and spinning it around like a drum filled with raffle tickets. “This is our second year,” Anderson said. “Last year they wouldn’t let us use the roaster out concern for it being a fire hazard.”

After the pale green peppers darkened, Anderson packed them into gallon-sized plastic bags where they steamed before a few simple ingredients were added to finish the final product, which can be found at Dean & Deluca, Whole Foods and William Vale.