The first rule of the annual early Autumn event is “Come hungry!” With more than thirty participating chefs/restaurants and beverage makers to sample at this year’s Pepper Festival, that rule seems very appropriate.

pepperfest13A fest that began in 2008 as an informal gathering of friends and family sampling different varieties of sweet bell-shaped peppers along with a few prepared dishes from Angelina’s Kitchen has grown in both size and scope. The event quickly outgrew the capacity of its original location on Lorax Lane in Pittsboro, where one finds The Abundance Foundation. This year Boulder Park in Chapel Hill’s Briar Chapel community hosts the event once again. Though food and beverage are the primary reason one should come with an appetite, the fest includes entertainment to feed minds – live music performances, kid-friendly activities, and 25 booths with information about sustainability, conservation, renewable energy, local food, clean air and water – all focal points of the Abundance Foundation’s mission.

True to its name, every dish and beverage at the event will incorporate a locally grown pepper of some sort in the ingredients. Glasshalfull’s contribution at this year’s menu is a Pimento Cheese Crostini with pickled banana peppers and cherry pepper relish, which may make a nice appetizer before diving into Bean & Barrel’s Spicy Smoked Pepper Chicken Gumbo. Don’t expect every menu item to be savory though, the small bites menu includes sweeter items too. Look for Candied Pepper Meringue Cookies from CCCC Natural Chef Culinary Program or the sweet and savory combination of Chili-cured Bacon and a Doughnut with Chili Caramel from La Residence.
Naturally, one will need a beverage to accompany each morsel. Attendees can purchase pepper-themed craft beverages from Steel String Brewery, Mystery Brewing Company, Carolina Brewery, as well as Top of the Hill Brewery & Distillery.

During the festival a Pepper King and Queen will be crowned with a headdress composed primarily of peppers, as has become the tradition. New this year is the “Fueling Flavor Best Dish Contest” in which a panel of culinary experts will judge competing restaurant entries based on flavor, presentation, and use of peppers. The winning restaurant will take home a $500 prize. The event has expanded in time as well, now running one hour longer than last year (from 3 to 7 pm). Tickets are available online for $30 in advance (kids under 12 get in free) and will be $35 on the day of the event.

If you’ve not attended the Abundance Foundation’s Annual Amazing Pepper Festival in the past, this year have a light breakfast or brunch, then spend a late Sunday afternoon grazing on local culinary creativity and celebrating our sustainable communities.