Rosemary's Blog

Chill out at the West Dean Chilli Fiesta

In my previous life, i.e as a working girl in Sussex, this weekend would have been All Systems Go as it is the annual celebration of all things hot in the way of capsicums - the Chilli Fiesta at West Dean Gardens near Chichester.

I’ve lost count of how many Fiestas there have now been. I was there at the first, a single afternoon event, and then almost annually until I’d notched up 20 chilli-head celebrations. That was enough, but it was great to have been a part of such an incredible success. This year, 2018, will be sweetly spiced for the gardeners and creators of the Fiesta, Jim Buckland and Sarah Wain. They retire from West Dean at the end of March ‘19, indeed the day after Brexit. Within 48 hours our ‘world’ will change beyond belief. Let’s hope that whoever comes after them will know a bit about chillies!

 We were all so young!

We were all so young!

 Look, I’ve hardly aged at all! I saw that necklace and had to have it!

Look, I’ve hardly aged at all! I saw that necklace and had to have it!

The Cookery Theatre is always very popular at shows and I see that when I took this picture, making the audience wait for their tasters, I was pairing a Paul John whisky from Goa in India with my Vanilla scented prawns with pasta and chillies. I do remember it being a great success! Occasionally there was a few minutes between dems for me to have a quick look around.

IMG_0494.JPG

Then there was the year that Levi Roots came to perform on stage and to promote his sauces. Poor guy wiped his fingers on his handkerchief after dealing with naga chillies, then wiped his eyes with the same hankie. What a pro: he got through the dem (with my help of course) but went straight to the St John tent afterwards. He was ok but do take care. Freshly picked chillies are actually hotter  in higher tempoeratures, a warning for this year Down South.

I must have demonstrated almost 200 chilli dishes at West Dean. The ice cream we served at the first event was mango and chilli. Subsequent favourites have been Coconut, white chocolate and chilli, and Dark chocolate and chilli. I firmly believe that fresh chillies are the only way to make a good chilli ice cream: there are some Dreadful concoctions made with dried ones. There’s also a lovely summer stir-fry or salad of Chilli squid and prawns with baby carrots and radishes with sunflower seeds, and a favourite dish for winter of Kale with chick peas, chillies and pine nuts.