ZestFest 2013, the popular hot, spicy and zesty food show continues today from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, Jan. 27, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The exhibition opened to the public Friday afternoon, following a “for the trade only” morning preview, and evening awards banquet at which winners of the prestigious Golden Chile Awards were announced.
It may be grey and chilly outdoors today in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, but the minute you step inside the exhibit space at the Irving Convention Center, you’ll be warmed by the sights and sounds, and the smells and tastes of the lively show, presented by Spicy Food Productions.
It would be best to arrive hungry at the door, however, because this is the kind of show where almost every exhibitor offers samples. And there are 138 vendors this year – a sold-out show. This is the third year ZestFest has been held at the Irving location and, according to the organizers, online ticket sales are running about 50 percent ahead of last year’s sales. Between 10 - 12,000 visitors are expected. Admission is $15, and parking in an adjacent covered garage is $8.
The three-day exposition features food and spicy product vendors from across the nation, as well as a sampling of related products from near and far. Almost all products are offered for sale at the show, from cookbooks to handmade chili roasters, and from the “Pot Bra” to a barbecue-rotisserie which folds up to suitcase size.
Handmade and innovative are prized attributes, as much as hot, spicy and zesty. There are also drink mixes, sweet treats (sometimes with a "bite"), spiced nuts and dessert offerings. It's a certainty that there are sauces, dry rubs, marinades, flavorings, salsas, jellies, and even candies to please every palate.
Winners of the Golden Chile Awards in several different categories were chosen in a three-day double blind taste test held early last week; winners proudly display their ribbons and trophies at their booths.
Beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday and continuing during show hours on Sunday, there are scheduled Celebrity Chef Stage presentations – which include free sampling following the demonstrations – every hour in a far corner of the exhibit hall.
Presenters include Fort Worth Restaurateur and Cookbook Author Jon Bonnell and legendary caterer Eddie Deen, renowned for feeding thousands efficiently and deliciously at events such as inaugurations (yes, in Washington, D.C., as well as for the Texas governor), as well as Eduardo Alvarez, Enam Chowdhury, Eduardo Alvarez, and Peter Mollett.
A WingStop Atomic Challenge Wing-Eating Contest will be held Saturday from 1 to 2 p.m., live on the Chef Stage, and live music is featured throughout the day. A tasting table is available at the show as well, offering visitors an opportunity to vote for People’s Preference Awards, which will be announced on Sunday.
At the end, you’ll most likely feel as if you have attended a marathon tasting event; but you should walk away with a warm, satisfied feeling.