By Megan Forrester | Special to the NB Indy
No matter who you are, everyone eventually ends up at the grocery store. Whether it’s to stock up on paper products, secure ingredients for a new recipe or grab a bottle of wine after a long day at work, grocery shopping is a necessary but sometimes dreadful activity.
But, there is indeed something, a certain scent in particular, that transforms a grocery store into a venue full of renewed zest that turns mundane shoppers into Guy Fieri, instead of just a place to buy toilet paper or a gallon of milk.
That ever-so-powerful aroma is from the annual Hatch Chile Festival at Bristol Farms in Newport Beach, now in its 12th year.
“The smell coming out of the roasters can travel half a mile on the street and it’s something like, ‘Oh, what is that, that smells amazing, I gotta find it out,'” said Bristol Farms Director of Produce Scott Wiggans. “You can see people being led in by their nose, as they’re smelling it up the street trying to figure out where it is.”
The Hatch Chile, which originates in New Mexico, contains a smoky taste and texture. But, unlike a typical jalapeño, Wiggans said that Hatch is “more complex than any other pepper” since it holds many nutritional values and can be added to almost any recipe for extra pizazz.
Back in 2010, Bristol Farms sought to spread the word on this unique food by hosting a live roasting event each year and incorporating Hatch into every aspect of their store.
“When Bristol started with these hatchery events, there was nobody else in Southern California that was doing it,” Wiggans said. “So you really had to come to Bristol Farms to get your chili. The celebration is really about the entire store getting involved in creating an event where customers can walk in and try all these different items and talk to the people who are cooking and preparing them and get people to understand all of the awesome options that can be created or prepared using hatch peppers.”
With six times the Vitamin C content of an orange, the ingredient capsaicin to relieve stress and a zing that makes any taste buds soar, Bristol Farms quickly gathered fans of Hatch Chiles that returned each year. Wiggans said these devotees, also known as “Hatch Heads,” continue to buy around 4,000 cases of the pepper each year.
“Everywhere you go with a hatch pepper, every time somebody tries it for the first time, they’re instantly hooked,” Wiggans said. “A Hatch Head is basically somebody who changes their entire way of eating, cooking and preparing food with the thought process of how they can best implement the hatch peppers to as many dishes as they eat.”
Through September 14, Bristol Farms will display countless Hatch-inspired recipes, expert tips, cookbooks and of course, cases or by the pound amounts of roasted and non-roasted peppers.
Although its roots are from New Mexico, Bristol emphasizes that Hatch Chiles can be spliced in anything including cheeseburgers, scones, sushi rolls and even macaroni and cheese.
The highlight of Hatch Chile season is the live roasting event on Saturday, Sept. 3, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., where customers can select their own peppers and behold Bristol Farms’ roasting process while rubbing shoulders with fellow “Hatch Heads.” The event also features a large demonstration area where Hatch experts showcase the endless versatility of the pepper.
“You can get your peppers roasted, you can get the smell that comes from that and then you can walk in and try 15 different items and talk to people who have prepared them and just really jog your brain about all the options that hatch can provide,” Wiggans said.
Even though the Hatch Chile continues to modernize itself into new dishes and cuisines, Wiggans told the Newport Beach Independent that every live roasting event is nostalgic to his upbringing in New Mexico.
While he started working in produce at the age of 17, Hatch was always a constant in his family. Whether it was making Hatch scrambled eggs, Hatch chili lasagna or simply peeling the peppers in preparation to cook, Wiggans said the high turnout of customers each year reminds him of his strong connection with Hatch.
“(My family said) it was more of a ‘What are we having for dinner?’ And how much Hatch are we going to put in it?” Wiggans said. “But then there were also a lot of dishes that we would make and cook around the incorporation of Hatch.”
With the main goal of spreading awareness on this unique little pepper, Wiggans said that he hopes customers understand how spicing up their food in the most minute way can spread joy – and make grocery shopping that much more pleasant.
“Such an amazing tasting item and such a versatile food source can also be such a great way to add nutritional value to your meals,” Wiggans said. “You’re maximizing the taste, you’re maximizing the eating experience of this versatile pepper, but you’re also putting a great health boost into everything that you’re creating. I think there’s not a lot of food that you can say that about.”
To learn more about Bristol Farms’ Hatch Chile celebration and the live roasting event schedule, visit https://www.bristolfarms.com/hatch-roasting.