Nothing changes your perspective quite like watching 10 people speed-eat hot wings until their snot, sweat, and tears are in freefall....
I learn this fact of life while standing in a dense crowd at the fourth annual New York City Hot Sauce Expo in Brooklyn, New York, a celebration of spice for heat seekers of every stripe. The competitors in the wing-eating contest—which is presided over by a leather-and-spiked-choker clad hot sauce celeb who goes by the name “Defcon”—have just wolfed down chicken slathered in a sauce so potent that they had to wear rubber gloves while eating. Heavy metal blares in the background as they descend into condiment-induced ecstasy.
I can relate. Like them, and the rest of the Expo attendees, I’m a member of a community that’s willing to risk a little pain for its pepper passion—the kind of dedication I’ll venture to say is unmatched in the rest of the foodie world. In recent years, our cult has grown and diversified; all over the world, more and more people are beginning to realize that they can—and should—spice things up, and with more than just Tabasco (although it is delicious). Hot sauce is in our bags (ahem, swag) and popping up in everything from museum exhibits (like a recent show at the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles) to fast-food joints (see: Burger King’s new “Angriest Whopper”). And we enthusiasts are all convening on social media and IRL in a quest for the hottest Carolina Reaper, the sweetest Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, and the ghost pepper with the deadliest kick.
So why is everyone getting on the sauce? Here, three heat heavyweights speak to the appeal of some spice.