By Colleen Kane
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Chile Pepper Fiesta on Saturday celebrated chiles, with chocolate as the supporting act. (Why do so many delicious foods begin with “ch”? I’m thinking mainly of cheese as always, but there is also of course chicken, chai, and so on.) This year’s lineup included cooking demonstrations, a pepper plant sale, spicy food vendors, and specialty food makers, and music from chile-loving cultures.
It was a gorgeous afternoon to be at the gardens, and I arrived eager to graze on spicy samples, but I made a rookie mistake by arriving too late. Although the fest ran from noon to six, numerous booths were already abandoned by 3:30.
Luckily, sampling was still going strong at the Horman’s Best Pickle stand, which maintained a constant throng of pickle tasters. I tried the new dill and red flannel pickles. The latter flavor was new to me, a zingy cucumber pickle made with apple cider vinegar (or as I like to call it, because I’m very into vinegars, ACV). Both flavors packed what I value in pickles: crunch and punch, though both registered on the lighter end of “punch.”
For the second year, the fiesta featured a separate area for chocolate: the Chile Chocolate Cabana, featuring exhibits of the stages of chocolate production from tree to treat, and artisanal delights from makers like Liddabit Sweets and Whimsy & Spice. Especially impressive was a salty morsel of Fine and Raw chocolate.
The Fragrance Garden hosted cooking demonstrations from the chefs of Cabrito, Fatty Crab and Fatty ‘Cue, and Tchoup Shop, as well as Chef Karthic Kumar of Brick Lane Curry House. At the Brick Lane demo, eager samplers lined up for chicken and vegetarian dishes. I had the veg plate, which was grilled naan and two condiments: a mild yogurt-based sauce and a chutney just hot enough to leave my mouth pleasantly abuzz for the next few minutes.
I couldn’t resist lolling about on the grass of the Cherry Esplanade in the afternoon sun, but was lured over to the music tent by some heavenly melodies from Haiti’s Grammy-winning Boukman Eksperyans. They drew the day’s biggest crowd, and after a few songs, I departed with a smile.
One final note–Although most kids aren’t big on hot peppers, this is always a very kid- friendly event, what with the chocolate, the garden setting, the exhibits, and the music. Even the danger factor of spicy foods might appeal to the bigger kids. If not, let them eat chicken nuggets, also available from the food vendors.