Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Welcome to the Inferno

Each year, the night before Halloween, we close the restaurant for our annual celebration of spicy foods, the Inferno Dinner. It started about 3 years ago at our friend Rishabh’s home. Every weekend we would get together and try to out-spice each other, and one weekend he suggested, “Why don’t you do a spicy dinner at 610 and we’ll invite all the spice heads we know to test their mettle against your recipes?” And just like that, Inferno Dinner was born.

It started out as a hard-core group of idiots, maybe 15 of us, seeing how much heat we could handle as each course gets progressively spicier. It starts with a little throat tickling which leads to a few beads of perspiration around the upper lip, a little heavy breathing and a few noses being blown. This is around third course. Two more courses and your vision starts to blur, your hearing is crippled, breathing is now a succession of deep breaths trying to cool off the tongue. Water is pointless by now. Milk would help but that would be admitting defeat. Sweat is now rolling down your back, your cheeks, sprouting from the crown of your scalp. Extremities tingle, even tremble. Your chest is on fire. And somewhere beneath all this pain is a heartbeat of euphoria trying to surface. And, yeah, we thought this was a hoot. Until the next morning when nature called.

I never planned on doing the dinner again, but word got out about our little night of pain and I started to get calls from customers who figured there was a secret password to get invited to the next one. Strangers came out of the woodworks asking me about a rumor they heard. It felt like I was in some strange incarnation of Fight Club where all these otherwise straight-laced folks were asking me to punish them with spice for that cathartic high they were seeking.

So we decided to do it again the following year. We didn’t advertise it but we let all our friends know they were invited. About 40 people showed up. They came nervous but excited. The dining room was quiet and polite when I retreated to the kitchen. By the 4th course, I took a peek out into the dining room and could hear a communal giggle. Neckties were on the floor, towels were being handed out. By the last course, there was a shift from hilarity to near insanity. One woman was crying and appeared to be convulsing, another man was practically shirtless. Everyone was cursing. And everyone seemed to be loving it. I can honestly say I have never witnessed anything like it before. It was almost cultish the way the room rose together into this crescendo of delightful pain.

The next day, I got a phone call from a woman who wanted to tell me that her husband attended the previous night’s dinner. He had come home drunk, moaned all night long, then vomited. He was now on the couch still in pain. I patiently waited for the lawsuit threat and was floored to hear her next question: “So when’s the next one?”

This year, we couldn’t contain it from the press. A story ran in the Courier-Journal. Over a 110 people came this year with many, many more turned away. It was my best Inferno Dinner to date, I thought. It’s not men anymore; it’s grandmothers, churchgoers, Republicans and Democrats. It’s punk rockers and Southern ladies. It’s taken on a life of its own. I don’t know where to take it from here. It seems like it may have peaked this year. Or maybe not, maybe this is just the beginning. Unifying through the love of heat. Who knows, crazier things have happened.

Here’s the menu we did this year. It’s simple but the heat creeps up on you. I spent a long time developing this progression but I’m sure we can improve upon it. I guess we’d better...for next year.

Inferno Dinner 2010

It is always by way of pain that one arrives at pleasure.

- Marquis de Sade

Ahi Tuna Poke Salad with Shrimp

Mango, Avocado, Hearts of Palm & Wasabi Vinaigrette

Germany, Henkell, Trocken Sekt

Lamb Kalbi Taco

Kimchi – Chipotle puree

Pickled Jalapeno & Pork Rind Sesame Crumbs

Goose Island Brewery, Pere Jacques

Bird’s Eye Thai Chili and Lemongrass Soup with Pulled Pork,

Snap Peas, Mushrooms, Broken Noodles, Spicy Carrot Froth

Alsace, Binner Gewurtztraminer, 2005

Habanero Rubbed Swordfish Escovitch with Chorizo Smashed Plantains

Carneros, Etude Rose, 2008

Simmered Goat with Bhut Jolokia (Ghost Pepper), Basmati Rice and Yogurt-Mint Sauce

Valencia, Celler Del Roure, Les Alcusses, 2007

Photos: Matt Jamie via Facebook

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