According to chef James Zoller, the man who's masterminding a menu of incredibly spicy bites for Hell Night at W Austin's Trace, the Austin Hot Sauce Festival is just a warm-up.
Inspired by the infamous series that began at Boston's East Coast Grill, Hell Night is an evening of normally innocent-looking dishes that get a horrendously hot upgrade with some of the world's spiciest peppers.
It's the third year that Trace is hosting the event, and the first where it's officially linked to the Austin Hot Sauce Festival and has a charitable component.
"One of the reasons we started it was because there really isn't anywhere in Austin that I know of that's doing a night dedicated to spicy food," says Zoller. "There's definitely a lot of pepper heads in Texas. This year we were able to not only support the Central Texas Food Bank, but the Hot Sauce Festival is supporting us as the official after-party. It's one of those things that just makes sense."
A portion of the $40 ticket price will be donated to the Central Texas Food Bank, and festival-goers can receive $10 off by using the promo code HOT and showing a photo of Trace's Hell Night flyer on display at the festival.
The ticket includes passed appetizers, "Stages of Hell" serving stations, two cocktails, entrance into the Can't Stand The Heat Competition, and prizes for the winners.
"I was introduced to Hell Night in my teenage years," says Zoller. "My older brother, Jake, introduced me to East Coast Grill when he was living in Boston, and they always kept a few rippin' hot dishes on the menu — a few of which we tried. One was a hot sauce roulette, with five slices of cucumbers with small dollops of hot sauce in the middle of each one. I had the spiciest one and not only did it actually taste good, the endorphin rush blew my mind. By that time in my life I didn't know my career route, but that experience is something I'll fondly remember."
The evening of delicious torment immediately follows the festival, from 5:30-8:30 pm on August 26. Trace is located within the W Austin hotel, at 200 Lavaca St.
"Each year the event has evolved a little bit more," says Zoller. "The first event was an a la carte dinner service, and the next year was more of a laidback-type of party. This year, since we're the Hot Sauce Festival's after-party, we decided to stick with that theme. It's always fun to research and execute different cuisines we usually don't focus on at Trace as well."
Purchase your tickets to Hell Night here — if you dare.