What started with one lowly tobago pepper has heated up to be the largest food festival of its kind in the Southeast! The Annual Pepper Festival, hosted by Abundance NC and Clairemont client Briar Chapel, now tops the charts as a spicy celebration of North Carolina cooking, music, fashion and culture — and all to support sustainable food and fuels.
But few hot events come out of the gate with 2,200 attendees, 50 competing chefs and an award-winning roster of bluegrass bands. As we approach the 10th Annual Pepper Festival this fall, we wanted to take a moment to celebrate the fun milestones along the way.
2008: One Pepper, One Dream
Enter 40 friends who gathered at the Piedmont BioFarm (part of nonprofit Abundance NC) to engage in a little spicy sampling. Farmer Doug had long been dreaming up a seed-saving program to cultivate vegetables suited specifically for the North Carolina climate. Doug began growing, breeding and testing his favorite food — peppers, but he needed palates to taste and assess his new produce. Hence, the first Pepper Fest was born! Angelina brought food (to wash down the peppers, she says!), and the sustainably minded, spice-loving friends noshed their way through almost 50 varieties of Farmer Doug’s peppers.
2009: The Second Amazing Pittsboro Pepper Festival
The Pepper Festival coined its first official name, Habanero Beer from Triangle Brewing Company made its debut, bands hit the scene, and a dozen chefs joined the fray to craft pepper-themed dishes. Briar Chapel began partnering with Abundance NC to support the festival and promote the organizations’ common goals of sustainability.
This year witnessed the coronation of the first Pepper King and Pepper Queen, a tradition that still stands today. The Pepper popularity spread like wildfire with 500 attendees at the festival!
2011: A New Location!
Briar Chapel hosted the Pepper Festival first time at Boulder Park in Briar Chapel. As the largest green community in the Triangle, the partnership between Briar Chapel and Abundance NC to further sustainable lifestyles just made sense! Attendance hit quadruple digits, and more than a dozen community organizations joined forces with Briar Chapel and Abundance to take part in the Festival.
Pepper Fest added a bevy of family activities (like a vegetable circus, face painting and hula hooping). For a little extra fun, they added red-clad, pepper-themed acrobats! A record of 35 chefs and artisans fired up the culinary contest.
This year, The News & Observer named the Fest as one of the “Must-Do Food Events of 2013.” Attendance skyrocketed to 1,500 festivalgoers with a record $20,000 proceeds raised.
2014: A New Location (Again!)
The Pepper Fest outgrew Boulder Park and made its debut at the all-new Linear Park at Briar Chapel. This year featured a judging panel of food and beverage experts along with a new array of dishes — from pepper chocolate to North Carolina’s inaugural batch of pepper jelly beer. And the scales reported that the chefs used a whoppin’ 800 pounds of peppers!
The Pepper Fest claimed the spot as one of the largest chef competitions in the state with 45 chefs and artisans. In addition, the Pepper fest debuted Pepperpalooza, kid-friendly activities to provide hands-on education about local agriculture with creative workshops like “Food Fonts” and “The Insane Science of Fairyland.”
Briar Chapel added zest and zip with the inaugural Kid Chef Competition and “Hot Glam” Pepper Fashion Show. Festival fans could find out how spicy their personalities were with the Pepper Fest Personality Quiz. In addition to a record 2,200 attendees and 50 chefs and brewers, the Pepper Fest celebrated raising approximately $100,000 over nine years to support more than 200 farmers who wouldn’t otherwise be in business.
2017: It’s the Big 10!
What do you think we’ll cook up this year? Tune in on September 24, 2017, the spiciest day of the year (and the date of the 10th Annual Pepper Festival). Who knows — we might even break a Guinness World Record!
Images courtesy of Briar Chapel.