It seems so long ago now but on the 8th September 2012; a Chilli farm in the wilds of the West Country was transformed with stalls, cooking and of course cider drinking! I am of course talking about the 4th Upton Cheyney Chilli Festival.
This event has continued to grow each year it has been held, and for the first time I had the opportunity to throw the tent in the car, and leave normal life behind. The Chilli festival is as far as I know, the only one to actually be held on a Chilli Farm. Alex and Louise Duck plus the team that support them work very hard to make this increasingly successful festival happen.
I arrived on the Friday and found the Farm (luckily I had visited the farm back in April) fairly easily. I checked in at the farm shop and was given directions to the camping field.
If you have never been to this area, you cannot fail to be impressed by the views especially those that greet you from the campsite. Once the tent was pitched, I ventured down to the farm to see what was going on and found myself at the village pub for a quick drink, well the sun was shining after all! A short walk back to the farm and I soon got involved helping with the setup of marquees and other things, obviously with cider in hand!
The evening saw the bar open for those early arrivals, and gave everyone an opportunity to relax, chat and put names to faces, from Facebook or Twitter conversations. There was a BBQ with burgers and hot dogs produced from meat reared on the main farm by Dave the farmer. Soon enough it was time to turn in ready for the day of the festival.
I awoke in my tent really cold having expected the sun to have been nicely warming it for me, as the forecast had predicted. I opened the tent to be greeted by fog so thick I couldn’t see the next tent! The farm shop was serving breakfasts but I had brought my own camping cooker, so after a nice bacon and egg roll I wandered down to the farm.
I arrived just in time to see the start of the 1st Upton Cheyney Chilli Cook Off at 10.00am. For those not familiar, this was something that started at the Reading Chilli Cook Off event earlier in the year and run by the one and only Jon Doody, each team had 4 hours to cook the very best Chilli they could to secure the prize of £250 and the honour of winning.
The festival opened at 12.00 and there was soon a queue forming at the entrance gate, just as the fog cleared to reveal a cloudless sky. This year, due to the increase in size Alex had changed the layouts etc but it still seemed to work really well. The traders were spread around the field including Mr Vikkis, Hot-Headz, Bath Pig Chorizo, Seaspring Seeds, Love Unlimited Ceramics, and Simpsons Seeds.
There were inflatable bouncy things for the kids, Belly Dancers and even mud wrestling thanks to Inferno and 3G for the slightly older kids!
As the sun shone, this meant the bar was popular all day with a steady queue, something in common with festivals, and likewise with the ice cream van.
In no time at all, it was time for the judging of the Chilli Cook Off which was won by the Royal Q Pit Crew headed by Steve Heyes. Before this, wooden spoons were being “sold” to visitors for them to get tasters from each team after the judging, with the proceeds being donated to CLIC (Cancer & Leukaemia in Children)
There were reports of some people not being able to get samples due to the teams running out, from what I saw it was very busy and as some teams had dropped out, this meant less food to go round. Jon Doody is already busy organising future events to address this sort of issue and has just set up the UK Chilli Cook- off Association, details will follow soon, regardless, £421 was raised by this for the charity.
4.00pm saw the final event of the day, the Chilli eating competition, something no Chilli festival would be complete without. Back in the spring, In a moment of madness I had entered this, why, I don’t know, but suddenly there I was sat on the stage with the other victims, the likes of Leo “HomegrownUKchili” Scott, Jay “ChilliAlchemist” Webley, Darren “Dazza”Trent, Rob “House” House and many others, being introduced by our own Darth Naga.
There had been talk of beginning at a Habanero but luckily the Chillis started off a little milder, but very quickly we were up to Dorset Naga and Bhut Jolokia. I was ok until “Jonny Bonnet” to my left, was sick! We moved on to a 7 Pot Burgundy, and this was my downfall along with a few others. My face, mouth, throat and stomach were on fire. The crowd were baying for more. This left 3 to eat the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, soon “House” left the competition leaving “The Curri Monsta” and “ The Chilli Warrior”. After going another round, it was decided to make them joint winners. Well done to Al George and David Phillips. There are videos on YouTube if you wish to take a look!
So that was the main day programme done, the festival was not over. Everyone left and the site cleared up in readiness for the evening party, something which was strictly ticket only and had sold out months earlier. This was being held in the old Tithe Barn and bar just outside. We all returned to recount stories from the day’s goings on over a pint or two of cider, listening to live music and eating from the BBQ or the other food stalls set up.
In summary, this festival is unique in that it is set on a Chilli Farm and has a very laid back atmosphere to it, but is quite busy, Alex estimates that attendance for the whole day was around 4000 and both Louise & Alex were always seen rushing around working really hard to co-ordinate things.
This event is one to watch for next year, and is taking place on the 7th September 2013 ( it’s always the 2nd Saturday in September) so keep an eye on http://www.uptonchilli.co.uk/ for news early next year.