Posted September 10, 2007 by Nick Lindauer in Hot Events

ZestFest 2007 Recap

Whew – one show down and another to go (Houston Hot Sauce Festival is just around the corner).

Zest Fest 2007
Behind the scenes at the Fiery Foods Judging

I arrived in Fort Worth on Thursday to do some judging for the Fiery Foods Show and then the Burger Bash later that night. The judging was a fun event – it’s was interesting to see all the behind the scenes happenings. One gentleman has been judging for the Fiery Foods challenge since 1997! He hasn’t missed a judging day or session for 10 years – and this year they awarded him the “Teflon Tongue” award. Many of the judges have been judging for 4-5 years and were eager to share their experiences. They were also intrigued to hear about the blog and the internet chilehead community. I had to recuse myself from the wings category – one whiff of Defcons sauce and I had some mean flashbacks. But I did try each of the wings served and after the event, in speaking with CaJohn he let me know that he had entered the new 10 Wing Sauce (which won 1st place in the Xtra hot category). And boy – can I attest to the fact that it was indeed hot. The burn hits in a much different manner then Defcon 1 and all but sneaks up on you. That was the only sauce that I tried while judging that made me reach for a piece of cheese and my glass of water. And through all the sampling of the afternoon, only one item was “returned”. We began the drink category testing and all was well until the server brought around these little cups of brown liquid. The drink inside smelled like coffee and the only thing we were told was that it contained vodka. Well, let’s just say that everyone at the table took a sip and promptly spit it out. I’ve never seen such a universal agreement of taste – but it wasn’t a popular item with any of the judges to say the least.

Zest Fest 2007
So many burgers – so little stomach space

The first annual Burger Bash was thought up in order to transition the weeks events from the Fiery Foods judging to the ZestFest show. Held on Thursday night – the chefs began firing up their grills at 5pm and the MC kicked things off at 6:30. All 3 burgers were completely different and equally tasty. I’d be proud to order any one of them from any restaurant. I was told later in the night that the winning Chef (Chef Grady Spears) laced the buns with bacon grease prior to serving them to the judges. Whatever was served, his burger was most certainly the best (of the best) of the night. And good news everyone, Chef Grady has created a Cowboy Cookbook which will soon be available on Amazon. Pick it up when you can to sample some of his cowboy recipes.

Friday was trade day at ZestFest, held in the Will Rogers center (with a gun show just next door). Trade day was slow to say the least. In speaking with several vendors, they did not see a lot of trade buyers that they normally see at these events. However, it was also a good opportunity to get ready for the upcoming public days. The overall consensus (of those that I spoke to) was that Friday was a needed day, but they’d love to see more trade buyers in the future. Trade day is also a great day for collectors to get their bottles and orders taken care of. I think a split schedule everyday might even things out a bit in terms of traffic volume.

Zest Fest 2007
Defcon Creator made his annual flyby trip.

Zest Fest 2007 Friday night was the Fiery Foods Challenge awards dinner and show. The live band was great but too loud. Just ask Jim :-). The dinner was orchestrated better – with more buffet lines then last year and better food (based on the feedback from my table). The loud band played all through dinner, making conversation hard to have – but I’m sure we could have heard “Fat Kids Sauces” over the music. Just like last year, it was CaJohn’s award night – starting right out of the gate with 1st place for his new Apple Smoked Chipotle Bourbon Barbeque Sauce. However, the night contained a few surprises. Sweet Sunshine shook up things with over 5 awards and Best Overall – not bad for their first entries! To pass the time, the Danny Cash crew created a drinking game for their table. The table had to drink 100 beers before the open bar closed (it was open from 7-9pm). Needless to say, over 100 beers were finished as were a few livers. The 100th bottle has been saved and you’ll see it here on the HSB soon enough. After the show, the drunken group headed over to the bull but it has already closed.

Zest Fest 2007

Zest Fest 2007
109 bottles of beer on the table

Saturday and Sunday were public days at ZestFest and boy did the public show up. The team behind the show promotion did a lot more advertising and it certainly paid off. 2,500+ arrived by Saturday at 2pm alone! Many more came after as well, but I don’t have a final attendance count as of yet. And, unlike other shows I’ve attended, I saw a lot of cash changing hands and not as many stumbling drunk goons (not including those in the booths). Compared to last year, there were about 10-12 fewer vendors which made for a smaller show – but there was more space to walk around and that was much needed when the public descended. Being in Texas for the last month, I can tell you that no matter where you go, people take things easy in TX (meaning they walk sloooowww).

With less vendors and bloggers in attendance, the nightly party crowds were smaller – but that doesn’t mean the parties were. Each night there was a gathering (or several) of chileheads and those that made it were able to spend a lot of quality time together. Cheffy made sure to bring down several bags of his terrific jerky and I made sure that everyone tried a piece. Even those that were too full to eat tried a piece (under pressure from others) and then wanted more. For those that don’t know Cheffy, he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet and a great friend. He also runs Cactus Bob’s BBQ Corral in Des Moines, IA where he makes some killer BBQ. His jerky is so good that I got 3 bags on Friday and they are already gone. Granted, I was convinced to sell one to Dave (part of the DC crew) but 2 1lb bags in 3 days certainly speaks for the quality of product. And $20 for a 1lb bag isn’t going to break the bank – unless you eat as much jerky as I do. 🙂

Saturday night was the poker game & re-scheduled bull riding. We started the poker game with a warm up and training session and then headed over to the bull. As I mentioned before, Pepperman showed us all up with his impressive bull riding skills. He even lasted longer then Lisa did last year. I fell off within 3 shots to the nuts as did Danny Cash. Lee and Sam both lasted a little longer and the Ex & Lana both put their skills to the test. the Ex walked away from the night with a massive bruise on her leg and my wrist is still a little screwed up. But will I do it next year? Hell yeah.
Once we returned to the poker room, the game started up and the trash talking started flying. Cheffy was the ultimate winner – knocking the Ex out around 3:30am in the morning and taking home this years trophy and bragging rights.

Zest Fest 2007
Poker chip values ala Danny Cash

Sunday was a day to say goodbye for a lot of the travelers and the last day of public buying. A lot of vendors were running low on product and close to selling out by the time I left at noon on Sunday – which is always a good thing for those exhibiting. One of my favorite products from the show – Danielle’s Chiliyaki Sauce was sold out on Saturday! That just goes to show you that you shouldn’t wait until the last day of the show to make purchases of things you definitely want.

Overall, a smaller show didn’t mean it was any lesser of an event. I enjoyed the time that I got to spend with everyone and will definitely be attending next year. After seeing the last 2 shows under the helm of Jason Goodman, I can certainly say that the man is staying true to his word of sticking with it. A few things that I’d like to see at next years show:

  • Lower prices on the booths – This will get more vendors in, both local and national.
  • Allow smaller vendors to split booths – Again, some smaller vendors cannot afford the cost or the manpower of an entire booth. Allowing them to split a booth would give the smaller guys a break and let them break into the show circuit. And it would also let the guys that have limited staff split the duties of manning a booth.
  • More outside advertising – With traffic going to the gun show (next door), why not put a few vendors in the outside area to draw folks in? Maybe it’s not possible due to the buildings structure, but it’s an idea worth putting out there.
  • More trade buyers – This show is held at the end of the buying season, so it’s harder to attract trade buyer but more trade buyers will certainly make the show more appealing to vendors (both small and large).

For those that are already planning on going next year – shoot me an email. We’ve arranged for reduce room rates at the Amerisuites again – next year the rooms will start at $250 a night, but with the arranged discount, rooms will be available for $160(ish) a night. Talk about a savings! And don’t be afraid to split a room with a fellow chilehead – just be sure to ask ahead of time if they snore, otherwise you may find yourself with a freight train in your room.

Stayed tuned for more – show tasting notes and products reviews will be coming later this week.

Zest Fest 2007

Nick Lindauer

The Original Hot Sauce Blog