Billed as Austin’s official end-of-summer celebration, the 20th anniversary of The Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival
was celebrated Sunday at Austin’s Waterloo Park.
What started out 20 years ago as a friendly challenge to a hot sauce cook-off competition between Austin and San Antonio has evolved into The Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival, a sizzling summer afternoon where thousands of people donate food and then enjoy drinks, free music, and more hot sauce than even the most liberal taste buds can handle.
’s idea of admission to the festival caters to the generous spirit. Three nonperishable food items per person is requested as donation for the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas
While numbers are not yet final for Sunday’s festival, last year’s attendees showed their generosity toward those in need in the central Texas region.
In an interview with Digital Journal
during Sunday’s fest, John Turner, senior director of marketing for the Capital Area Food Bank, said last year’s donations were split among the food bank’s 355 partner agencies.
“Last year we collected 29,000 pounds of food in about six to seven hours’ time, with a total value of $14,000,” Turner said.
“The Hot Sauce Festival is one of the Food Bank’s main events each year. We’ve been associated with it for five or six years now.”
Turner had an enthusiastic response when asked how the economy is impacting overall donations to the Food Bank. “We’ve seen record distribution three out of the last nine months. In July, for instance, we shipped 2.7 million pounds of food to 21 counties in our region, feeding 300,000 central Texans.”
He attributed those record-setting numbers to two factors. “It’s a testament to the lingering effects of the economy and recession combined with the generous spirit of those willing to give to the needy. Still, we need people’s help now more than ever. There are so many people out there having trouble making ends meet.”
At the center of the festival is the hot sauce, with three levels of competition: individuals (homemade), restaurants, and commercial bottlers. Those three levels are then broken down into 10 categories.
Homemade hot sauces are red, green, or special variety. Restaurant hot sauces are red, green, or special variety. Commercial hot sauces are red, green, special variety, or pepper sauce.
According to The Chronicle
, judging for individuals, restaurants, and commercial bottlers is done by some of the top chefs in the state of Texas. Several previous winners from the individual (homemade) category have gone on to start their own hot sauce businesses.
Combine all those secret recipes, the hours of labor at perfecting them, and the middle of a hot August afternoon in Texas and you’ve got one of the prime hot sauce festivals in the region. That nonperishable food items donation at the front gate allows admission onto the grounds where long lines in the summer sun await brave souls in search of intense heat.
Hot sauce entries in the restaurant and commercial bottlers levels are presented under the Tasting Tent, where hot sauce fans enjoy a brief respite from the summer sun while sampling sauces from the various categories. Due to health department regulations, only individual hot sauces made in commercial kitchens make it to the Tasting Tent for public tasting.
Adding to the sensation of heat, the People’s Choice Awards for Commercial Salsas is determined by popular vote. Commercial bottlers entering the competition must have a booth at the festival. They then automatically become part of the judging process and the people’s choice award, if they so choose.
One of Sunday’s longest lines was at the booth of Silver Leaf International
, owned by a husband-wife team from Houston. Thanks to some great word-of-mouth advertising and an eye-catching logo on its newest creation, the couple appeared to be enjoying the rush. Silver Leaf’s Adriane McWeeney spoke with Digital Journal
while searching for a much-needed five minute break.
“My husband, Neal, and I began making salsas about five years ago. We just started making Ghost Pepper Salsa last August.”
A look of amazement came over her face as she gazed out at the line. “This is our first year at the Hot Sauce Festival. It’s just unbelievable.”
Rounding out the day’s festivities were food vendors from some of Austin’s favorite restaurants and local chefs at the Demonstration Tent showing the secrets to making their specialty hot sauces.