• Clifton Chilli Club

2017 Chilli Review

Firstly, Happy New Year to you! We hope you enjoyed the holidays and are ready for another year of variety and ‘spice’!

Whilst we have a chilli-filled year ahead of us, it would be remiss of us to not look back on 2017 as it was pretty incredible. We’ll try to reflect in chronological order but forgive us if we go off track a little…

Before the festival season began, in February we were approached by two different television production companies wanting our participation in shows they were developing. The first company to approach us was ITN Productions who wanted to feature interviews with us along with some of our online video footage for a programme called Holiday Horrors: Caught On Camera. Based on the title alone, we couldn’t quite fathom the request as the show didn’t seem to correspond with what we do. However, after a chat, we discovered that they wanted to show what some people do as an alternative holiday and what they do if staying at home in the UK. They featured footage of us in pain during a trip to New York and again in Holland. They also featured videos of us snorting chilli powder and repeatedly spraying chilli extract in our mouth (don’t try that at home!). In addition to that, they asked if they could film us taking part in a (very) hot wing challenge so we set up a date with ITN and the guys at Grillstock restaurant in Bath.

The term ‘stitch-up’ if often used amongst us chilli guys and the afternoon at Grillstock was no exception. The ITN crew had arrived at the restaurant before us and, unbeknown to us, had spoken with the chef and asked for our wings to be as hot as they could make them. In part, we have Hot-Headz to…umm…’thank’ for that as the wings were steeped in their signature Who Darees Burns: Second Assault sauce. Despite suffering immensely whilst eating the wings in front of a camera & crew, the final footage never made it to air! Prior to the wing eating, ITN interviewed us on camera and this footage, along with our video footage did make it to prime time TV. It was kinda cool.

The second company to approach us was looking for chilli recipes and education for a Channel 4 show called Eat The Week, hosted by TV chef & presenter Simon Rimmer. This was definitely within our comfort zone and we had trouble keeping ourselves restrained to the brief we were given. Ultimately, we presented them with a range of recipes we felt highlighted chilli for flavour over heat and we cooked them for the show’s co-host Michela Chiappa. The final edit was a good mix of food and chilli myth-busting which was aired later in the year.

Our first major chilli event of 2017 was at Eastnor Castle Chilli Festival. Set in beautiful grounds in the depths of Herefordshire, this festival has grown year on year and is a firm favourite amongst many chilli traders as it’s the first meet of the year when stories can be traded and friendships rekindled. Whilst the festival is held in the castle grounds, we tend to stay overnight in nearby Ledbury as we’ve become fairly friendly with some of the locals and pubs.

Held over the first Bank Holiday in May, Eastnor always risks the chances of rain as we are still firmly in Spring. This year, the weather held off and the public turned up in good numbers. Our job was the same as always, recruit people for the chilli eating contests (one on Sunday & one on Monday) and run them. We always get a good number of entrants at this festival and the crowd made it a fun, interactive and amusing contest to be part of. Both winners were male on this occasion and the final round of the Monday competition was fiercely fought!

It wasn’t until mid-June when we hosted the next chilli eating contest and this was on the hottest day of the year! Why people would want to eat blisteringly hot chillies when the sun is beaming with ferocity is beyond us! Yet, despite the beautiful weather, we had another full house of contestants in the centre of Reading. The Reading Chilli Festival is arguably a humble affair yet it dominates the high street and surrounding pedestrianised areas. Returning chilli eating champion Sid Barber came to defend her crown and very nearly lost it had the runner-up not thrown up! We also get to host the hot wing eating competition at this festival and it’s a lot of fun to witness. This year, the wings were made even hotter, laced with various chilli extract sauces and emitting a vapour so intrusive it made our eyes and noses run from 4 feet away! The contestants experienced the same effects with the exception of the winner Amanda. She nailed the wings and barely broke a sweat. Impressive.

In between festivals, we all have our day jobs however, we try to use our spare time and weekends to film poly tunnel updates, product review videos and cooking videos. Whilst we’ve done this to the best of our ability, time eluded us throughout the summer and our ability to produce content other than eating contests for our YouTube channel was inhibited.

We travel a lot with both Clifton Chilli Club and our jobs, so it’s always nice to be part of an event in our home town of Bristol. July sees the mighty festival Grillstock take over the harbour in Bristol and it’s a meat lover’s dream. Before you get close the festival area your nose is filled with the sweet smell of BBQ smokers rendering meat and providing for the hungry. It’s a great festival full of competition BBQ, cool bars, BBQ classes, live music (such as The Darkness, Hayseed Dixie and Craig Charles) and, of course, the epic eating contests hosted by yours truly. We are under no illusion that what makes these competitions so incredible is the spirit, volume and enthusiasm of the large crowd along with the showmanship and eagerness of the contestants. The hot dog eating contests are messy fun. Forgive us if we seem sexist but we often find that men fair better at this contest as they are happy to faceplant the ‘dogs’ and get really messy. Too many of the female contestants seem concerned with the piggish nature of eating with your fists in order to win. However, that’s a generalisation and we hope to see a female champion soon. The thing is, the hot dogs are smothered in French’s Mustard – a sweet, American-style condiment with a staining bright yellow colour. If you get it on your clothes or skin, you’ll be washing it off for days! Blame the turmeric. Regardless of this, the best way to eat the dogs quickly (in our opinion) is to soak them in water, mash them together and eat as though it’s your first meal in weeks. It’s uncouth but effective.

When we take the online entries for the competitions at Grillstock, we ask each contestant to tell us something about themselves. Not only does it make the selection process easier (we get hundreds of entries each year), it also provides us with some amusement. Here are a few of our favourites from the 2017 entries:

“I was born with an extra finger on my left hand.”

“Polar bears can eat as many as 86 penguins in a single sitting...”

“I once licked the lava spewing out of a volcano and it started flowing the other way. I live for hot things in my mouth.”

“I once dyed my hair with shoe polish and was then chucked in to a swimming pool! I now have no hair.”

“If you stretch a slinky out until its flat, it would measure 87 feet long”

Educational, exaggerated and fun to read!

In addition to the hot dog eating contests, we also host the wing eating and chilli eating contests. The wings are plentiful and cooked by us using a high dousing of Frank’s RedHot sauce who sponsor the competition. Rumour has it that a little extra chilli is added to the mix but we can neither confirm nor deny this! The end result is a plate full of 25 wings per contestant which must be eaten right down to the bone. We slow cook the wings to ensure that the meat is melting away and we don’t accept any wings which are still showing meat once the contestants have discarded them. First person to eat all 25 wings to our satisfaction wins!

The chilli eating contest at Grillstock is definitely one of our favourite events of the year. We get to look out over a sea of meat-loving festival goers who indulge in the schadenfreude of this brutal competition. The noise can be deafening and the contestants often seem to feed off of this. As with all our chilli competitions, we start mild and get progressively hotter with each round. Grillstock always seems to go the distance which makes for entertaining viewing and a lot of laughs. That said, clearing up vomit backstage isn’t quite as funny. One Clifton Chilli Club member had to throw away a pair of shoes due to sick stains.

We were honoured to be involved with a new event this year at Silverstone Woodlands during the British F1 Grand Prix. As some of us are F1 fans, we couldn’t pass on the opportunity to be involved with the festival and the build up to one of the highlights of the British sporting calendar. The guys at Silverstone Woodlands had seen some of our previous chilli eating contests and wanted to add this to their line-up of entertainment during the festival which starts a few days ahead of the race. Now, we aren’t fussy folk who need the best hotels and have a list of demands prior to attending events, we just like to get stuck in and cover costs. As we were offered camping facilities, we jumped at the chance to be in with everyone else and pitched our tent late on a Thursday evening and headed to the cider bar. We were blown away with the sheer size of the festival area which had several stages, a pub, pop-up bars, plenty of food options, great facilities, a fun-fair and more. We got stuck in and enjoyed a late night with the F1 fans!

Friday was laid back during the day. In fact, it was so laid back we even had an afternoon nap! We’ve never done that at a festival before as we’re often kept busy throughout. It was a refreshing change! We even got to play Scalectrix with some of the Force India guys. It wasn’t until the evening that we hosted the chilli eating competition on the main stage. Being a new concept to Silverstone Woodlands, we struggled to get contestants from the outset but eventually had a good number of entries who gave the alcohol-merry crowd something to enjoy.

We also ran a hot dog eating contest on the Saturday evening which was made ‘hot’ by the addition of a chilli extract-laced habanero sauce. The quantity (6 dogs) wasn’t the issue for the contestants, it was the heat!

Here’s something you may not know about our weekend at Silverstone: we also ran a ‘Dad Dancing’ competition! Ok, so it’s not usually within our remit but Silverstone Woodlands were keen to try this out as an idea and wanted to provide variety in their Family Area of the festival. Not knowing how they wanted the competition to run, they left it to us to devise a format. Being a family event, we decided that the kids of the competing ‘Dads’ should be judges and we gave them each score cards. With a DJ at our disposal, we set up five rounds, each with a theme:

Round 1: Best Disco moves (Can’t Stop – Michael Jackson)

Round 2: Best Air Guitar (Back in Black by AC/DC)

Round 3: Best Robot moves (Daft Punk)

Round 4: Best use of a partner (I’ve had the time of my life – Dirty Dancing Soundtrack)

Round: 5 Freestyle (Uptown Funk – Mark Ronson)

We had no idea what to expect and we were uncertain about the potential success. However, what we got was side splitting laughter and some fantastic memories. Every Dad who entered gave it their all. They were in it to win it and the prize was a family camping pass for 2018 worth close to £300! Our favourite round was Round 4 as all the Dad’s grabbed their judging or spectating daughters and embarrassed them in the aid of fun. It certainly wasn’t chilli related but we came away with grins on our faces and aching ribs from laughter. In hindsight, we should have filmed it. Maybe this year…

As we were done with all competitions by Saturday evening, we had the opportunity to head back to Bristol. However, as the F1 Grand Prix was the following day, we managed to acquire tickets and enjoyed an incredible experience at the racetrack. Watching Vettel blow a tyre and Hamilton win was something we’ll remember for a long time. It was a superb atmosphere and extremely loud.

As our day jobs couldn’t be ignored, we continued to struggle to produce much online content during the time after Silverstone. We managed the odd polytunnel update video but failed to record much more. However, YouTube continued to remain a strong platform for us and we were honoured to surpass the 100,000 subscriber milestone. In recognition of this, YouTube kindly presented us with a Silver Creator plaque and we’re struggling to work out where to hang it!

August was our next adventure: Finland.

We’d been invited to ChiliFest Finland for a couple of years but time and cost was an influencing factor in our decision not to attend. However, the dates for their 2017 festival fell favourably for us so we booked a long weekend in order to experience our European friend’s version of a chilli festival. Flying from Bristol to Helsinki was easy and, from there, it was a comfortable and clean train ride north to Tampere where the festival was based. It kicked off on the Friday evening and ran until Sunday evening. Whilst relatively small, we relished the new selection of products on offer and were amazed by the varieties and quality of fresh peppers being grown in Finland. Liquorice flavoured sweets seemed a big deal there and we weren’t surprised to find some slightly odd tasting candies with a generous helping of chilli in them. Hot yet addictive – isn’t that often the case? We were fortunate to be asked to be involved with judging the chilli cook-off and were grateful for a translator as our ability to speak Finnish extremely poor. We learnt a few words which were mainly centred on different flavours of hot dogs! The winning chilli con carne was exceptional. Better than any chilli we had ever tried and incredibly impressive. Despite the poor weather, trade seemed to be good for all stall holders and a BBQ competition still managed to take place in the rain. Amusingly, we met an English chap who was living in Finland. He knew of Clifton Chilli Club and even text a friend to say that he’d just bumped in to us. Not believing him, his mate insisted on a picture and bet him €20 that we weren’t in Finland! We obliged a picture and watched him walk off €20 richer! We really do find it odd when we are recognised by strangers, especially when abroad. We guess it’s testament to the power of YouTube and social media.

As the rain continued, there was shelter in the form of an adjoining hall which was holding a beer festival. Of course, we had to investigate (just to dry off, of course!). The first thing we picked up on was the sheer choice and quality of the brews on tap. Whilst we found and enjoyed Finnish cider, it wasn’t a patch on the West Country quality we are used to. However, the beers were fantastic. We particularly enjoyed a local beer brewed with pine and juniper. It was silky, dark, strong (around 8% abv) and beautifully flavoured. We hung out at the back of the hall and enjoyed our beers. Before long, a small group of gents asked if they could join us and we welcomed the company. As we chatted, one of the group kept getting pulled aside for photos. It happened again and again so we asked why. It turns out that we were hanging out with a Finnish rock celebrity called Jussi from a band called The 69 Eyes. Our music knowledge is ok but certainly not comprehensive. A quick search on Spotify and Google gave us enough information we needed to feel a little star struck! It turned out the Jussi was promoting his new chilli liquorice alcoholic shot drink. He poured us a round of shots and we tipped them down our throats with intrigue. It was nice. The liquorice flavour was balanced and the chilli burn was acceptable. More and more shots followed and the night descended in to fun & chaos in equal measures. It was a good trip!

At the end of August, we returned to Silverstone Woodlands, this time for the Moto GP. A smaller and quieter affair but still good fun and memorable. We ran the same set of competitions as per the F1 Grand Prix weekend (including the hilarious Dad Dancing) and hope to return to both in 2018.

September saw us travel to the Dutch Chili Festival. An indoor event in the old industrial sector of Eindhoven. It was a chance for us to meet up with some of our European friends who we’ve gotten to know over the years. It’s always nice to see the guys from Crazy Bastard Sauces. Run by an Irish chap and his Scottish wife living in Germany, they provide a range of sugar-free, fruit-based chilli sauces. We also made a few new friends and spent a little time exploring the city. The local beer was rather strong yet delicious and needed to be avoided if we were to continue exploring.

Our festival season is always rounded off at Powderham Food Festival in Exeter, Devon. Another venue with a stately manor and lush, green grounds containing a deer park on the estuary. We’ve been working with this festival for a few years and love the more intimate atmosphere. Our base for the weekend is in the Smoke and Fire tipi. A very large, wooden framed tipi that held a fire pit and wooden benches. Spend more than 5 minutes inside and you’ll smell like a log fire for the rest of the day! All throughout the weekend our BBQ master friends Simon Dyer and Marcus Bowden (Country Wood Smoke) provide great BBQ demonstrations, challenging common misconceptions about grilling and give punters great ideas on how to utilise their coals, woods and grills. We ‘help’ by eating the samples they cook and drinking their cider! When not doing that, we run a chilli eating contest each day and never struggle for numbers. As with most other events, it attracts an engaging and vociferous crowd. Each year, the same father & daughter team enter and, whilst we try to stay unbiased, we inwardly will one of them to win. It’s yet to happen but we hope they return again in 2018.

The build up to Christmas is tough for us. Our day jobs keep us well and truly routed in Bristol with little scope for generating new video content. We try to keep other media sites active such as Instagram and Facebook but time is generally against us. However, as soon as Christmas is over, we like to arrange a night out in Bristol with an open invite. This Christmas we convened at the aptly named pub The Christmas Steps. It’s situated in a very Dickensian part of Bristol that looks great in the snow! Sadly, snow was absent on this occasion but good times were not. A good number of people joined us and took over half the pub! It was a great way for us to thank people for their support and even buy them the odd drink or two.

With great sadness, we were sorry to learn that one of our favourite UK producers ceased trading at the end of 2017. We are all big fans of Bim’s Kitchen products and both Nichola and James were such great people to hang out with at festivals. We wish them all the best with their change in direction and hope that we will see them again soon.

So, what does 2018 hold in store? Well, more of the same for us in the way of festivals, eating competitions, video footage and more. Our camera, sound and lighting equipment has all been upgraded and we hope to improve the quality of what we produce. We have a few secret plans we hope to make public in due course and we will be looking for more people to get involved with us. Watch this space and have a great 2018! Thanks for your support.

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