The Austin Chronicle

23rd Annual 'Austin Chronicle' Hot Sauce Festival Winners

The heat was on

By Virginia B. Wood, August 30, 2013, Food

The 23rd annual Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival was a helluva party. The cloud cover and pleasant breeze off the lake made the heat tolerable, and the great music, spicy foods, and cold beverages were available in abundance. According to festival co-founder and head judge Robb Walsh, the salsas this year – with more than 350 individual salsas in competition – were some of the hottest the judging panel has ever encountered. Preliminary judging honchos the famous Alvarado brothers concurred, pointing out that they'd seen more than one Ghost Pepper sauce this year.

Infusions of new blood into an annual event such as this are always a good thing, and we saw new winners in every category this year. I'm pretty sure this is the first time in the entire history of the festival that an Indian restaurant has taken the top prize in any salsa category, so a hearty congratulations to Naanfull on their win. We've rarely seen any group as jubilant as the young men from Freedmen's were about their prize. Moving to South Austin must have invigorated the El Chile Cafe & Cantina kitchen, because this year is a first win for them. And now that I've seen they have a winning salsa, I'm curious to check out MiJo's Tex-Mex, the San Antonio transplant that has taken over the former Zandunga spot on East 11th.

And while we love seeing new winners in the individual division, what's notable there this year is folks like Cyrus Sanchez, Dan Cook, and Bud Spaar moving up from honorable mentions to join repeat winners like Vanessa Brightman in the winners' circle. It shows that perseverance pays off, so keep entering every year. (Mark your calendars now: The 24th annual Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival is set for Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014.) We also noticed previous individual winner Michael Valencia was back as a commercial bottler, which is always gratifying. His Mikey V's Foods took home some prizes in its first year on the commercial side.

Introducing the public to new commercial products has become an important aspect of the festival, but it was sad not to see our dear friend Jill Lewis and her family sharing samples of the Austin Slow Burn line of delectable fiery foods with the crowd. Elizabeth Koepke created a bittersweet tribute booth to Jill, and we're grateful to everyone who visited it and signed the memory book that was presented to Jill's sister, Theresa Harrison, before the awards ceremony. Theresa told us Jill's last words to her were "Peace, love, and chiles, baby," and I can think of no better way to sign off!

Video by Scotchrocket Productions

For a photo gallery from Sunday's Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival, see

Restaurant Category

Red Sauce

1st: Naanfull Indian*

2nd: Freedmen's*

3rd: Sazon

Honorable Mentions: Habanero, Curra's, Mighty Bird, Santa Rita, Chucho's Mexican Restaurant, El Nuevo Mexico Restaurant, El Rincon

Green Sauce

1st: El Chile*

2nd: Chucho's Mexican Restaurant

3rd: MiJo's*

Honorable Mentions: El Rincon, Freedmen's, Tacodeli, El Nuevo Mexico Restaurant, Sazon

Special Variety

1st: Torchy's*

2nd: Tacodeli

3rd: Curra's

Honorable Mentions: Mi Casita, Sazon

Individual Category

Red Sauce

1st: Cyrus Sanchez*

2nd: Kim Johnson*

3rd: Mandie Martinez*

Honorable Mentions: Charlie Brown, Mike McFadgen, Tyler Ruse, Tony Padilla, Rusty Ward, Andria Millie, Brenda Barrientes

Green Sauce

1st: Dan Cook

2nd: Bud Spaar

3rd: Sal Solano*

Honorable Mentions: Justin & Griff Smith, Tyler Ruse, Shelley Michie, Sista Salsa

Special Variety

1st: Vanessa Brightman

2nd: David Weaver*

3rd: Vanessa Brightman

Honorable Mentions: Winda Bright, Craig Isaacs, Marlo Cooper

Commercial Bottlers Category

Red Sauce

1st: Kevin Billings, High Octane Sauce Company*

2nd: Frank Valdez, Frankie V's Kitchen*

3rd: Kala Uprety, Kala's Kuisine

Honorable Mentions: Hot Line Pepper Products, Mom's Family Kitchen, Big Daddy's Hot Sauces, Frankie V's Kitchen, Wolf Quality Foods

Green Sauce

1st: Victor Valdez, Becerra's Tex-Mex Salsas & Sauces

2nd: Jorge Rojo, Ro-Ho Sauces*

3rd: Kevin Billings, High Octane Sauce Company*

Honorable Mention: Frankie V's Kitchen

Special Variety

1st: Michael Valencia, Mikey V's Foods*

2nd: George Milton, Yellowbird Sauce*

3rd: JP Hayes, Sgt. Pepper's Hot Sauce

Pepper Sauce

1st: Trevi & Becky Biles, Big Daddy's Hot Sauces

2nd: Frank Valdez, Frankie V's Kitchen*

3rd: JP Hayes, Sgt. Pepper's Hot Sauce

Commercial Bottlers Category – People's Choice Awards

Red Sauce

1st: Mom's Family Kitchen Spicy*

2nd: Two Hot Mamas' Mambo Combo

3rd: Mikey V's Original*

Green Sauce

1st: Two Hot Mamas' Roasted Almond Chimichurri with Mint

2nd: Two Hot Mamas' Chile Verde

3rd: Tears of Joy Texas Cactus

Special Variety

1st: Two Hot Mamas' Creamy Cilantro Dip

2nd: Yellowbird's Yellowbird Sauce*

3rd: Kala's Kuisine Ledho Achar

Pepper Sauce

1st: Aztexan Habanero Supreme

2nd: Mikey V's Sweet Ghost Pepper*

3rd: Tears of Joy The Sword Tears of Fire*

*denotes first-time winners

Copyright © 2022 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.