Chef JJ's Back Yard hosts a number of beer related events throughout the year, ranging from the recent Sun King GABF preview dinner to the yearly Make It Local dinner associated with the Microbrewers Festival. Each one pairs craft beer with food prepared exclusively on the Big Green Egg. While the Back Yard only hosts events, the Big Green Bistro takes food trucks to a whole new level with a tour bus sized mobile grilling facility. One of the most unique events, and my favorite, is the annual Hell Night.
Hell Night wouldn't be possible without the chile growing prowess of Jim Campbell. Jim is a firefighter on the northwest side who has a respectable side business of running a chile farm. The chiles produced on Jim's farm are used by many hot sauce producers, including such big names as CaJohn's, Dave's and Blair's. While the opportunity to sample the world's hottest peppers is worth the price of admission, Chef JJ's takes the event even further by donating half of the ticket price to Jim's charity - Step Up for Charity. Step Up for Charity is an umbrella organization that benefits charities such as Lt. General Timothy J Maude Foundation, Jason M Baker Scholarship, Lt. Jim Cleek Scholarship, American Lung Association's "Fight for Air Climb" and Pike Fire Just Cause.
Now Jim's crop was not spared by this year's intense drought. His harvest was weak and he wasn't able to bring the large spread he normally does. Luckily, the chilehead community is strong, much like the brewing community. CaJohn's stepped up and donated a variety of the world's hottest peppers for the event. The most mild pepper on the table that night was the Red Scotch Bonnet Pepper. Climbing up the scale, multiple variants of the Bhut Jolokia (ghost pepper), Trinidad Scorpion, Trinidad Maruga Scorpion, 7-Pot and a new pepper hybrid, the Reaper. The Trinidad Maruga Scorpion currently holds the world record at 2 million scovilles and the Reaper might take the title at the next judging. These are serious peppers.
Rest assured that Hell Night is not simply 5 courses of meals that are unbearably hot and unenjoyable. Chef JJ's crew does an excellent job of using these insanely hot peppers to create fantastic dishes. In addition to the 5 courses, Triton and Sun King provided their own chile beers. Triton's chile beer was an IPA named Hatchblower IPA. The base was their Railsplitter IPA, which had green peppers (for aroma) and jalapeños added to create a flavor that complimented the hops and added a warming heat in the throat. Sun King has done a chile beer each year for Hell Night, and this year was no exception. Their offering was simply titled Hell Night and was based off of the Cream Ale with a blend of chiles created by Chef JJ's added. The end result was a very spicy beer that brought out lots of fruity notes from the chiles.
The first course was a Roasted Garlic and Artichoke Dip over Chef JJ's traditional grilled bread starter. Underneath the bacon-infused artichoke dip was a house-made hot sauce named Blow Your Face Off, which provided a nice but subdued spicy kick.
The second course was a complex and involved Posole, which featured blood sausage from Claus's and pickled black radishes from Goose the Market. A variety of spicy peppers were used in this one, and a side of house-made TED hot sauce could be added to adjust the heat level. A couple teaspoons of the TED sauce brought the Posole up to a tongue spiking heat.
The third course was a large bowl of Shrimp Vindaloo Curry, thickened with tomato and pumpkin and spiced with Trinidad Scorpion peppers. Depending on your tolerance of the type of capsaicin in the Trinidad Scorpion, this one may have brought tears to your eyes, but it was so good that no one could stop eating it.
The fourth course was a Grilled Tenderloin, which was rubbed with a house-made spice blend and placed on top of chipotle mashed sweet potatoes. Compared to the previous dish, this one wouldn't even be considered spicy, which was probably a good thing.
To finish things off with a bang, Chef Jenna created Avocado Pops in push-pop molds that were filled with minced chocolate and green ghost peppers. Just for clarification, chocolate ghost peppers are named for their color and do not have a sweet chocolately flavor. If I had not just consumed a piece of Reaper, this would have been the spiciest dish by far.
Throughout the meal, Jim brought by chopped up samples of peppers that adequately filled the heat spectrum of peppers ranging from 200K scovilles to 2M scovilles. Being the bull-headed individual that I am, I tried each one without the assistance of milk. I shed many tears on Hell Night, and consumed much water, but it was worth it. I consumed the Reaper and lived to tell the tale. Until next year, Hell Night.
Oh and as a footnote, Hell Night sells out very early, so start checking Chef JJ's website (chefjjs.com) in August for tickets to go on sale. Or just attend one of their other events to experience some of their less spicy foods.