Friday, 9 August 2013

Something for the Weekend: A Chilli Fiesta in Rural Sussex

Situated just north of Chichester, beyond the village of Lavant is West Dean College and Gardens. Craft-based courses dominate the schedule for learning at the college but, three times a year they have foodie themed weekend festivals: chilli, tomato and apple.

This weekend, as you may be able to tell from the signs (and post title), is the Chilli Fiesta. It begins
Friday (today, when I visited) and runs to Sunday.

What I found so fantastic about this event was the way in which every one working the festival embraced the spirit: even the carpark stewards directed you in with maracas whilst wearing a sombrero! 

The Chilli Fiesta was a great fun afternoon out and at £9 entrance fee it was far better value than many food festivals in London. The selection of food was comparable to a number of these larger foodie events however the number of local suppliers added to the unique feeling of the fiesta. The suppliers with stalls ranged from West Sussex-based farm shops with a local customer-base to cakemakers and spice mixers who supply national chains such as Whole Foods.
What was surprising however, was quite how small a part the chilli plant played in the fiesta, though they were still to be found (if you looked)...

The food which covers the gardens of West Dean College includes a selection of food to eat on the spot and breads, treats or condiments to take away; literally any food you can think of comes stuffed with chilli. From Chilli Candy Floss to Battered Veg to Chinese Stir-Fry to Kangaroo. Literally the Chilli Fiesta has it all (except a salad bar!)

Strong flavours of other sorts were most welcome at the fiesta too; garlic farms from the Isle of Wight and further afield bought over their finest produce, including chilli and garlic mayonnaise!

The fiesta is perfect for a leisurely browse, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the music. As you wander round the festival there are samples-a-plenty to be tried from a selection of sauces, chilli butter, chilli fudge, chilli toasted seed mixes for salad, chutneys, artisan breads... the problem is, once you try you won't be able to resist buying!
I also found the best burger I have possibly ever eaten; Indian-style chilli chickpea with lots of salad in a wholemeal bun. Possibly as close to a healthy burger as you can get!

The chilli fiesta is not however all about the food! There small nod to the chilli plant comes in the selection of chilli plants you can buy and great entertainment on the main stage as well.
So... If you are looking for a foodie hit this weekend get down to West Dean in West Sussex or visit this link for more information (including ticket sales for next year if you need more notice):
http://www.westdean.org.uk/garden/news%20and%20events/chillifiesta.aspx

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