Stephen Fahey: Irish Hot Sauce
Last Sunday The True Gods of Fire descended on Dublin City for the first Annual Irish Hot Sauce Expo 2018 and, having attended, I can happily report that the future of Irish hot sauces is not only secure but it’s burning white hot. It’s not just about heat, though, of course. But don’t get me wrong. There was enough heat there to kill off a herd of elephants, as Nathanael Boarer of Chilli Mash Company proved with his Trinidad Scorpion and Carolina Reaper sauces. This fine gentleman was also kind enough to part with a bag of Naga Chillies for my own personal use (Thanks again, Nathanael! They’re already fermenting).
Nathanael is also a grower of chillies, as is Tim McCarthy of Black Fire Foods. Tim not only makes terrifyingly hot sauces but he also employs a balance of flavours that goes far beyond sheer heat, as do all the producers in attendance at the Expo. A grower of over 20 varieties of chillies and a food fanatic, this well-travelled, Belfast based legend has already forgotten more about making hot sauces than most people will ever learn in a lifetime. A true gent, freely giving of not only his time but also of his knowledge. His sauces speak for themselves and range so far up and down the spectrum of deliciousness that you simply haven’t lived until you’ve acquire a few of his bottles.
Mike of Chilli Byrne’s boasts not only a savage wit and a culinary lineage, but the passion of a man who has found his obsession. In particular, his fruit-flavoured hot sauces and his persistent drive to improve them and all of his products at every turn make Chilli Byrne’s a must for any foodie worth their salt. His ‘Rawberry’ strawberry hot sauce also comes in hot and not-so-hot varieties so even if you can’t take the heat you can still enjoy his work. Also, his mid-heat ‘Yellow Fever’ mango and pineapple sauce is, quite simply, like nothing else. If it came in pints you’d drink it like it was water.
And then there is Bernard Gibney, of Gibney’s Garden Preserves. Have you ever talked to someone who is in love with food? I mean, truly in love. Well Bernard is. And after five seconds of talking to him you realise that he is exactly where the universe needs him to be. His Ghost Chilli Ketchup uses the flavour of the infamous ghost chilli but tones the heat down to the point where the flavour of the chilli is everything. Many of the big producers let the heat of the ghost hide its flavour, but Bernard knows exactly what he’s doing. In fact, he makes it look too easy. That Ketchup is an uncanny pleasure. I even picked up a bottle myself because I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Bernard is a force of nature onto himself too. And, like all the vendors at the Expo, who I would need all day to talk about here, he is a living example of what can be achieved patience and a refusal to quit. He was also very open, decent and generous in sharing his knowledge.
Others present included Tribal Foods, Rock Steady Food Co., Great Northern Larder, Rebel Chilli and more. Sadly, Nok Sauce couldn’t be there on the day, but to underestimate those mad hatters would be a grave mistake. I had a full hour to spend with the Gods of Fire but it felt like I was only there for five minutes. They’re a hugely welcoming and eclectic bunch of people whose care for their art is both obvious and intimate.
To live a full, healthier and proper life, my friends, I cannot stress enough the importance of your finding and following all of the above on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Visit them in person, find your local stockists, go to their online stores. Place your orders. And then enjoy a life made better by the art of food created through love, dedication and just a dash of fiery evil.