More than 62 hot sauce experts and enthusiasts joined together this weekend at the Blackham Coliseum to explore a variety of sauces at the annual Louisiana Hot Sauce Expo.
Vendors traveled from Tennessee to Texas to Hawaii to bring their own style of the bottled heat to the area where international favorites like McIlhenny’s Tabasco pepper sauce and Louisiana Hot Sauce originated.
“It’s great to see people from all over the country love hot sauce as much as we do here in south Louisiana and having a chance to share their own,” said Dana Romero, event organizer.
Novice hot sauce creators Kimberly and Bruce Forbach, of Palm Beach, Florida, made their collection in their own kitchen, displaying it to the public for the first time at the expo.
“We started growing peppers, and we came to Louisiana once and visited (McIlhenny’s) Tabasco factory,” Bruce Forbach said. “We decided we had the peppers, so we started trying to make our own sauces.”
Lori Cardenas, of Aunty Liliko’I Passion Fruit Products, traveled from Kauai, Hawaii, to Lafayette to sell her award-winning tangy collection.
“Passion fruit is sort of the staple in my products,” Cardenas said. “Our best-sellers are the passion fruit habanero mustard and the passionfruit mango chutney.”
Cardenas said she expects to be back next year.
But it wasn’t just the spicy condiments that attracted the crowds.
The Madison Chocolatiers West brought a new meaning to “hot chocolate” with their sweet candies that featured hot peppers like the habanero pepper or the world’s hottest pepper: Smokin’ Ed’s Carolina Reaper Pepper.
Traveling from the Rocky Mountains, Wild Bill’s Olde Fashioned Soda Pop Co. brought its artisan sodas made from ingredients like black cherries, vanilla beans and ginger.
“Chopped” and “Cutthroat Kitchen” veteran Johnny McLaughlin along with two-time international chili champion Cindy Reed Wilkins provided cooking demonstrations throughout the two-day event.
On Sunday, McLaughlin blended his Southwestern-style habanero hot sauce with fellow hot sauce connoisseur CaJohns’ tiki hot sauce to create what he called a “Cajun-Asian dish” in a plate of boudin tacos.
“When I’m coming up with my sauces, a lot of the thought behind it is how someone is going to use it in their cooking,” said McLaughlin, owner of Heart Breaking Dawns Hot Sauce. “I don’t look at hot sauces as a condiment or an afterthought in recipes. I try to think of how these sauces are going to be the foundation of the dishes.”
Traveling with McLaughlin was Amy Beck, of iBurn, an online specialty store that sells not only hot sauces but also chili mixes and salsas.
“We also have a brick-and-mortar store in Houston, which sells all the mom-and-pop, small-business hot sauces that you can’t find anywhere else,” she said. “It’s something that started with my husband’s blog, ‘Eat More Heat,’ three years ago and has just grown since.”
Despite the attendance reaching more than 2,000, Romero said he was disappointed by the lack of participation from local businesses in the event.
“This whole thing is run by the Romero family,” he said. “My mom is collecting tickets, and my wife is selling T-shirts. We are all from this area, so our goal was to keep it in the area and involve local businesses so that they could get their products out there, as well, but the lack of support and the companies’ refusals are just really disappointing.”
But Romero said the expo will return next spring to what he hopes is a larger crowd, a more involved community and a cooler climate.
“Hot sauce is a big deal here, and we want to grow the hot sauce artisanal industry in the area — and internationally — for people who enjoy more flavors in their foods,” he said, “so if we can accomplish that goal by having this, then we are very happy to continue doing it.”