There is always a frisson of excitement when we get up early to head to the Chili Fiesta at West Dean Gardens. In years past we’ve dragged numerous friends along with us for this very special fiery foodie day out in the countryside but this year it was just my hubby and I, for a change. We were flush with cash and ready to stock up our supply cupboard.
We got up bracingly early and got to West Dean just after half nine. A small crowd had already gathered and by ten the “doors” were opened and we paid our entrance fee.
The weather played along beautifully and everyone commented on the glorious day it was turning out to be as we ambled along the paths, stopping to chat to various vendors.
Chilipepperpete was there, with a new sauce called Dragon’s Blood. Holy smokes – I tried the mild one and had to turn away otherwise I would have lost my street cred. Tears were streaming down my face and it felt like I had taken a mouthful of fire. It was lovely though, once the face-falling-off receded, I appreciated the beautiful flavours in the sauce. We stocked up on a variety of dried chili and made sure not to touch any of the open sauces with our bare fingers. Spicy saucy finger accidentally in your eye, is not a good way to start the day
The Chiliqueen’s table is always a treat to stop at and sample the new condiments and flavours she’s rustled up. A particular favourite is the Coriander and Shallot mixed in with her standard chili jelly base. Lovely with new potatoes and veggies or as a glaze for pork or poultry. A few jellies were bought and stuffed into the backpack.
A favourite stall, probably for almost everyone who goes to the Chili Fiesta, is the organic chocolatier’s Montezuma’s. You have to get your elbows out to get near their stall. Wonderful boxed displays vie for attention with platters of broken up chocolate pieces to try. All I can say is that I am truly grateful to them for opening up a shop in the City (London) which is where my husband works. Chocolate cravings = satisfied! On the forefront of mixing flavours and coming up with great ideas for chocolate, they are a chocolate lovers’ paradise.
A new stall to Mark and I was Stratta – a competently run booth by Mary and John Stratton whose hobby of making delicious oils, vinegars and preserves went stratospheric as they keep winning gold in the Great Taste Awards! We spent a few minutes chatting to them about their beautifully flavoured vinegar (we bought blackcurrant vinegar) and oils. Mary’s enthusiasm was palpable and I knew I would have been able to sit there and talk to her the whole day given half a chance. But we moved on to see what else we could find at the foodie fest.
If you’ve never been to West Dean Gardens before it would be worth the trip just to walk around the glasshouses and wild looking arbors. We took time away from the stalls to do just that and discovered some of their wild flowers growing at in the walled garden. The glasshouses are tranquil havens and I spent a lot of time running around taking photos of various plants and fruits – like a real townie.
We discovered The Cool Chile Company in the glasshouse and came away with some genuine home-made mole and Mexican Hot Chocolate. I could have spent a lot of money right here as the products are all the real thing – they even have a proper tortilla press. How totally hardcore is that?
We ambled through some more stalls but noticed that things were getting pretty busy and packed out with fellow foodies. We grabbed some lunch (herb foccacia with some greek salad and hibiscus water) in the shade of a tree, some distance away from the crowds, and sat around, relaxing and enjoying the day. At an estimate, I would say that there must have been well in excess of a thousand people there, with more people arriving by the minute.
Just after one pm we bid West Dean Garden and the lovely people running the Chili Fiesta a farewell, till next year. We had a glorious time, made all the more perfect by the vendors’ generosity and creativity in coming up with “I want that” products. Every item that can have a chili influence, and some you would never have thought about, was for sale. There are many more shops and vendors I could name in this blog but to be honest, put a reminder in your diary now, for next year, to go and check out the Chili Fiesta. You won’t be sorry. Two cautions though: get there early and remember to wash your hands!
Thank you so much Liz(UK) (who we met on Twitter) for writing this brilliant report for us. It’s very inspiring and has got us looking forward to next year’s fiesta already. Hopefully this is the first of many Wahaca fan guest posts.