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Pepper-eating contest entrants chow down

Jennifer Sprouse • Jun 30, 2012 at 9:27 PM

Even with temperatures soaring past 100 on Saturday, eight brave people signed up for a contest that would prove to be another kind of hot.

Following the annual Independence Day parade through downtown, the first annual Chili Pepper Eating Contest at the Jonesborough Days and Nights festival set up near the Visitors Center, as a small, but interactive, crowd gathered to see contestants eat a variety of hot chili peppers.

Long tables spread out facing the street and as the first round of competition started participants had to eat and chew peppers that varied in seven different levels of hot, including jalapenos, Indian jwala, serranos, kajamarca, New Mexico twilight, Tai chile’s (firecrackers) and habanero.

Jeff Stratton, owner of Chapos Chile Patch, was the mastermind behind the festival’s new event.

“I approached the town of Jonesborough last winter and talked to them about having this contest that nobody’s ever done around here before,” he said.

Using his own chili peppers, Stratton said organizers gave each of the eight contestants five minutes to chew and finish each pepper.

“I started with the low level of the hot, which is the jalapeno, and we started marching our way up through it,” he said.

An unusual turn of events led seven of the eight contestants into a tie-breaker, where Stratton and his helpers gave out more peppers, awarding prizes and trophies to the first three contestants who devoured the peppers.

Matthew Lindvall, of Jonesborough, was the first contestant to finish the tie-breaker, claiming the first-place title in the contest.

“I wasn’t expecting we’d even would make it to the habaneros, but everybody finished the habaneros in under five minutes. So, I’m glad they moved to a finish first type of thing, because we could’ve eaten peppers all day, I think. There’s a lot of good competition in this group.”

Lindvall said he’d never entered a chili pepper contest before, but that his wife knew his love for peppers and urged him to enter.

“You feel it on your lips for sure,” he said of his reactions during the contest. “Your lips burn a bit, eyes water a little bit, sinuses clear out,” he said. “It affects different people differently, obviously.”

Pleased with the contest and happy that he won, Lindvall said he hopes to come back for the contest next year.

“It’s the first annual, so I’ll have to come back and defend (the first-place win) it next year,” he said.

The second-place winner was Christopher Griffin, from Telford, and David Barlow, from Johnson City, was third.

Griffin finished first in the initial five minutes, but said he had a hard time gripping the peppers.

“I mean, you can’t change the past,” he said. “I still had fun. I’m definitely coming back, though, for next year’s thing.”

Celebrating his birthday Saturday at the contest, Barlow said the hot stuff he eats is usually not hot enough for him, but was still concerned about finishing all of the peppers in the first five minutes.

“I thought it would be kind of close. I didn’t expect it to be as easy as it ended up being,” he said.

When the tie-breaking round was called, Barlow said the heat from the peppers began to set in.

“It just kept getting hotter,” he said. “It wasn’t too hot eating the peppers, but once you stopped it just kept increasing in the heat. My lips started to tingle, almost went numb a little bit.”

Barlow said that anyone thinking of entering the contest next year needs to be sure they like hot stuff and that their stomach can handle it.

Lindvall, Griffin and Barlow each won trophies and T-shirts from Jonesborough Days and Nights, as well as individual prizes, such as gift certificates to restaurants and Wetlands Waterpark.

“It was a good day. I’d eventually like to see this swell up to a lot more people,” Stratton said.

Today is the last day of the annual festival in downtown Jonesborough, and it will be open from 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

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