As luck would have it, the 13th annual Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival promises to be the most impressive ever. Somewhere back around the 10th annual festival, I suggested that maybe we ought to retire this thing before it got old. But hotter heads prevailed.
In truth, the organizers, judges, and the Austin Chronicle staff have little control anymore. Sparked by Austin's hot-sauce mania, this monster has taken leave of its creators and gone out to frighten maidens and small children in a public park. And it shows no signs of tiring. In fact, in the last couple of years, the thing has actually gotten bigger.
With the Derailers, Grupo Fantasma, and Patricia Vonne performing this year, odds are that another monster crowd will turn out. And more hot sauce than ever will be needed to feed the beast. If I am not mistaken, there will be some beer drinking, too. Hot sauce, beer, music, and scantily clad pretty people: Is it any wonder that Austinites flock to Waterloo Park for this strange event? The attraction is irresistible.
And as for the weather, well, yes, maybe hanging around outside on a 100-degree day is a little counterintuitive. But this is what being confined indoors for weeks on end will do to a human being. You end up with the summer version of cabin fever. You can't stay inside parked in front of the window unit forever, so, sooner or later, you go outside to shake your fist at the sky. Why not join 10,000 other sweaty people and make a party out of it?
Come one, come all, to this year's lucky 13th annual Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival. We'll have a few hundred gallons of beer and hot sauce waiting for you, as well as three of your favorite bands. But please be on your best behavior this year, as we will be hosting some visitors from New York City. Epicurious will be videotaping the festival for an upcoming show on the Travel Channel. Wear your cleanest dirty T-shirt, and by all means, buy some new flip-flops.
For the sake of the television show, we allowed New York celebrity chef Michael Lomonaco to serve as one of our judges this year. Our panel of judges is usually made up of Texas chefs, and some of you may think we have compromised our principles for a little publicity.
OK, so maybe we do look little better than the yahoos who line the ropes outside the studios of The Today Show. But think for a minute about the endless opportunities for amusement that having a New York judge will afford us. First of all, there's the sheer schadenfreude of watching a New Yorker eat 30 or 40 Texas hot sauces. And then there's the mystery sauce.
Our preliminary judges, a motley crew of minor media celebrities and food-service professionals, have to taste every single hot sauce submitted. They pass about 10% of the very best sauces on to the final round of judging. The sauces they reject range in quality from just-missed-the-cut to truly execrable.
Every year, the preliminary judges complain that they have to do all the dirty work. From their point of view, their mouths, throats, and intestines are being sacrificed to preserve the delicate sensibilities of the celebrity judges. So, in retribution, the preliminary judges have made it a tradition to wait until my back is turned to sneak at least one truly awful hot hot sauce into the finals so that the celebrity judges can feel their pain. I have no idea which one it is, so unfortunately, I end up nonchalantly feeding it to the final judges.
Imagine the look on the New Yorker's face when he takes a bite of the habanero-coffee-banana-garlic sauce.
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