Hot sauce festival adding spice to Lafayette’s weekend

Specialty hot sauce makers from around the globe are making their way to Lafayette this weekend for the inaugural Louisiana Hot Sauce Festival, where they hope to introduce hot sauce aficionados to new blends and spicy flavors.

“I’m excited,” said festival director Dana Romero. “It’s going to be awesome.”

Descending upon the shady oaks and Cajun houses of Lafayette’s Acadian Village will be more than 100 vendors, including 30 different hot sauce makers, nine bloody mary mix makers, and arts and crafts makers.

But the signature scent of Tabasco’s mash will not be wafting over this particular festival, which is all about the indie, offering small-time spicy sauces and dishes from 16 states around the U.S. and 12 countries. Vendors from Costa Rica, Jamaica and Canada will be among those attending in person.

“You have all these entrenched hot sauce makers in Louisiana,” Romero said. “We have none of those. We have new, up-and-coming sauce-makers.”

The oldest vendor participating in the event, CaJohn’s Fiery Foods out of Columbus, Ohio, has been crafting hot sauces for only 13 years.

Personally, Romero said he can’t wait to try the more unusual sauces.

“We’ve got a hot sauce maker coming out of Houston that makes hot sauce with green apples and jalapenos, pineapples and habanero and blueberries and ghost peppers,” Romero said. “I’ve never tried any of those! That’s what excites me the most, being able to try all these different flavors.”

For more sensitive palates, Romero said he’s got it covered.

“We’re also going to have people who make pickles, pies, pecans and pralines. A whole lot of p-words,” he said with a chuckle. “It is a hot and spicy event, but, in its essence, it’s not about adding heat. It’s about adding flavor to different foods.”

The idea for the festival came from Romero’s time as director of the Cajun Hot Sauce Festival held in New Iberia’s SugArena in 2012. Despite the name, he said, the festival didn’t have any hot sauces for its patrons to sample, so he changed that.

“It always baffled me because I’d been going to the festival for years,” he said.

Romero said he still felt like there was something missing. He said the historical Cajun atmosphere of Acadian Village was a much better fit than the horse stalls of the SugArena.

“It wasn’t really conducive to the hot sauce scene in Louisiana,” he said.

So Romero decided to start his own festival in Lafayette — a hot sauce festival that really is all about the sauce. He visited hot sauce festivals in Houston, Dallas and New Orleans to recruit chefs and hot sauce makers to sell their product at his fledgling festival.

Jeff Schmidt, of Florida, creator of Dog-gone Hot Sauce, is among vendors planning to set up shop at Acadian Village this weekend. All the sales of Schmidt’s award-winning sauces will be donated to animal shelters.

“This is the beginning,” Schmidt said. “This is where it all started.”

Schmidt said he hopes to win some awards, as well as gain insight on how others make their sauces.

“I know my sauces are good,” he said. “I’m looking forward to meeting other sauce-makers to see what they’re doing.”

Romero said the spirit of the festival is in that sharing of sauce secrets and experiencing new tastes.

“The whole reason we’re doing this is for people to notice them and for people to be able to add different dimensions to their cooking,” Romero said. “Hot sauce is so ingrained in Louisiana culture, and we thought, ‘What better way to introduce these products?’ ”

Along with the array of foods to sample, Romero said there will be local art on display, a cookbook signing, a children’s area and live music.

The festival runs Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, visit the festival’s website at www.lahotsaucefest.com.