Spice world: Pepper festival celebrates 25 years of chill

We mustache her a question: Anita Jacobs loves chiles so much that she has organized the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Chile Pepper Festival, happening on Oct. 1, for the last 17 years.
Photo by Caleb Caldwell

It’s going to be hot, hot, hot!

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s beloved Chile Pepper Festival will return on Oct. 1 for its 25th year of setting palates ablaze. For devotees of the spicy plant, the annual get-together not only sets mouths afire, but sets tongues wagging with stories of peppers past, according to the event’s organizer.

“It ends up being really personal to the visitors and we find there’s a tremendous amount of story swapping,” said Anita Jacobs, who lives in Park Slope and has directed the pepper extravaganza for 17 years.

People love sharing tales about peppers that bit back and favorite flavors as they sample from the 45 festival vendors, she said. This year’s lineup will include 23 heat connoisseurs from Brooklyn, including famed Atlantic Avenue bulk spice shop Sahadi’s and condiment kings Brooklyn Delhi.

The festival also features a chili-chocolate section, where sugar fiends can mix two top indulgences: sweet and spicy. Among the vendors will be Fort Greene ice cream shop Malai, scooping its red chili chocolate flavor — along with a rose-flavored ice cream for those who can’t take the heat.

But most attendees love spicing things up and can’t get enough of setting their taste buds on fire, said Jacobs.

“For them, the more burn the better,” she said. “They have an intention from the minute they arrive that they want to have a really intense burning mouth. There are a lot of people who don’t want the burn to stop.”

The day will boast a talk by capsicum king Gregory Seaton, who will teach audiences about the best peppers to cultivate in Brooklyn’s climate, and how to use and store them.

The party will also serve up a spicy soundtrack, with five bands from around the world taking the stage, including Louisiana’s Lost Bayou Ramblers and the Brooklyn Indian dance outfit Red Baraat.

Since its inception a quarter-century ago, the festival has grown from a humble gathering to an all-out party, said Jacobs. She used to have to scour the city to find artisanal chile purveyors, but now chile peppers are a hot trend, and finding chocolate-chile makers has become a much easier task, she said.

The event is an ideal way to say sayonara to warm weather while still breaking a sweat, said Jacobs.

“It’s an upbeat end of summer block party kind of feel,” she said.

Chile Pepper Festival at Brooklyn Botanic Garden (990 Washington Avenue at Crown Street in Crown Heights, www.bbg.org). Oct. 1, 11 am–6 pm. $25 ($20 students and seniors).

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill

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