Hot Stuff

Three competing spicy-food festivals may be toomuch for Texas to stomach.

IS EVEN A STATE AS CHILE-FRIENDLY as Texas big enough for three competing spicy-foods events?

Debbie Jones hopes so. Her Seguin-based promotional firm, Dos Habaneros, is putting on the first annual Texas Fiery Foods Show—a gathering of hot sauce makers, pepper growers, cookbook publishers and the like—at the Austin Convention Center August 22 to 24. When Jones announced plans for the show earlier this year, she discovered that her dates were the same as those of similar events thrown by Chile Pepper magazine in Dallas and the Austin Chronicle in Austin. Complicating matters was the fact that Jones is being assisted by Dave DeWitt, who runs the original Fiery Foods Show in his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico. DeWitt is the founding editor of Chile Pepper , which was purchased last August by Fort Worth’s Magnolia Media; soon after the sale, DeWitt quit to start a trade magazine, Fiery Foods , and Magnolia decided to sponsor its own Chile Pepper Expo. Meanwhile, DeWitt has been a judge at the Chronicle’s Hot Sauce Festival, a salsa-making contest, since the alternative weekly launched it in 1990.

Jones insists she started planning her show (whose cosponsors include Texas Monthly ) before Chile Pepper  was sold, so Magnolia couldn’t have a claim on that date. Although Joel Gregory, the magazine’s publisher—and the onetime pastor of Dallas’ First Baptist Church—declined to be interviewed, he wrote in the April 1997 issue that his dates were “already announced and printed.” Still, he said, he would “take the high road” and move his show back two weeks “at great expense.” It will now be held at Dallas Market Hall August 8 to 10.

Not so the Chronicle event. Editor Louis Black says he “can’t imagine” that DeWitt and Jones didn’t know the Hot Sauce Festival was set for August 24 in Austin’s Waterloo Park—especially since DeWitt is a friend of food writer and festival organizer Robb Walsh. DeWitt and Jones counter that the Chronicle created the conflict by moving up the date of this year’s festival. Neither Black nor Jones was willing to change the dates, so Jones suggested the Chronicle join her show. “I thought we could promote it jointly as the hottest weekend in August,” she says. ButBlack and Walsh didn’t want to ally with a show that charges admission; the Chronicle’s is free, with revenues coming from beer sales. They also reject the trade show’s emphasis on products and vendors; though restaurants and commercial packagers are welcome at the festival, most of their 350 or so entrants are individuals. And since they’ve drawn up to 10,000 salsa fanatics in the past, they don’t exactly feel like they need the help. “We felt they were trying to cash in on the huge audience and goodwill we’d built up over the years,” Black says. “And that struck us as ridiculous.”

“I promised never to do a hot sauce contest; I promised all kind of things,” Jones replies. “I’ll never know why they didn’t take up our offer. Next year, I’m having my own hot sauce contest.”

Is it us, or is it getting chile in here?

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