New Mexico, unlike a lot of states, doesn’t have a state fruit. But it does have a state vegetable—which is, as all locals know, the green chile. Now, technically, the green chile is a berry-fruit, not a vegetable. But there’s no need to get into a scientific argument with legislators. The point is, simply, that New Mexico loves its chile enough to enshrine the Christmas-colored crop in state law. So it is with some logic that Albuquerque finds itself proud, permanent home to the National Fiery Foods & BBQ Show. Between the food we eat and our average annual temperature, there’s little doubt that New Mexicans like it hot.
Every year the Fiery Foods Show features hundreds of exhibitors showing off their hottest gourmet foods, sauces, spices, sweet-heat treats and rubs. The event features more than 1,000 different products from the U.S. and around the world for tasting and purchase. It is the country’s largest gathering of fiery food products and barbecue sauces. And it hits the Sandia Resort and Casino this Friday through Sunday, March 4-6.
The Fiery Foods Show was launched 33 years ago by TV host, food historian and author Dave DeWitt. “While covering the New Mexico Chile Conference 34 years ago, I saw a tabletop display of Old El Paso products and thought, ‘This is a multi- billion dollar industry without a trade show.’ And I decided to fill that niche,” recalls DeWitt. Dave and his wife, Mary Jane Wilan, incorporated Sunbelt Shows, Inc. to produce the show, and the first National Fiery Foods Show was held in 1988 with just 47 exhibitors and 500 attendees. It’s only grown since then, moving from hotels to the Albuquerque Convention Center to its current location at Sandia Resort and Casino’s Grand Ballroom.
In addition to expanding in size, the show has grown in content over the last three decades. “There are more manufacturers every year, and their products are more sophisticated and focusing more on flavor than killer heat,” says DeWitt. From the start, Fiery Foods was conceived as a serious trade show, not a “festival.” Those who attend to sample products and see cooking demonstrations encompass local and national guests as well as commercial buyers and distributors from around the world looking for their next big product. In 2002 barbecue was added to the menu to increase the depth and breadth of the show.
For this year’s show, DeWitt promises there will be “120 exhibitors coming from as far away as New Hampshire, featuring more than 1,000 products for sampling and purchasing.” Those products include “everything from sweet and spicy barbecue sauces to super hot snacks.”
This year journalist Gwyneth Doland—a former food editor for Weekly Alibi who collaborated with DeWitt on a Fiery Foods & BBQ Magazine in the early 2000s—is helping out as this year’s “food expert.” Doland has been a longtime booster of the Fiery Foods Show because,”It brings food from all over the world to Albuquerque.” Doland, like a lot of New Mexicans, isn’t really a fan of the “hottest of the hot” challenges. But she’s eager to tackle the wide range of unique spice mixtures on offer at Fiery Foods. “I want to try spicy sambal with lemongrass and weird pineapple habanero hot sauce, and I’m not getting to Malaysia or Jamaica anytime soon,” says Doland. “But the show will take my taste buds on that trip.”
In addition to the vendors, the cooking demos, the food samples and the 505 Food Fights—a bracket-style culinary competition for charity—this year’s Fiery Foods features the U.S. premiere of the documentary Chiliheads. The film journeys to five countries—Canada, the United States, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago and India—to find hot pepper lovers and discover the enduring culinary culture that surrounds chilis (or, as we call ’em, chiles). The film screens Friday at 6pm, Saturday at 2 and 4pm and Sunday at 1 and 2pm. Grab a bucket of red chile popcorn and check it out while you’re there.
Whether you like it “hot” or “spicy” or just “flavorful,” Fiery Foods & BBQ has something to fill that pepper-shaped hole in your soul. Asked how many hot foods he manages to sample over the course of the three-day show, Fiery Foods’ major domo, Mr. DeWitt, cops to scarfing down “about 50” burning bites. Why not join him this weekend for a taste?
Fiery Foods & BBQ Show
Friday, March 4 (4-8pm), Saturday, March 5 (11am-7pm) and Sunday, March 6 (10am-6pm)
Sandia Resort and Casino Grand Ballroom