Belfast Telegraph

Wood vs Food: Our man's back with a towering inferno

Mouth-on-fire dish is not for the faint hearted.

By Christopher Woodhouse

Your faithful correspondent has once again agreed to shorten his life expectancy and expand his waistline for another series of the culinary circus that is Wood vs Food.

Back by what I’m told is popular demand — and definitely not because the Editor wants to have a laugh at my expense — over the next six weeks I’ll be giving two fingers to the Grim Reaper with a coffin-dodging series of food challenges.

I’ve decided to kick off with something memorable and, at time of writing, unique to Northern Ireland.

When I say memorable, I mean it in the sense of losing your first tooth or seeing Santa cuffed in the shopping centre because it turns out he’s on a register.

So to the Safari Grill at Junction One, the retail park outside Antrim. There lurks Safari proprietor Dave ‘Madman’ Mateer with his band of henchmen and henchwomen, or indeed henchpersons.

Dave previously lured in punters with his Bellybuster Burger challenge — a towering mass of calories which looks like a motorway pile-up between an Ulster fry and Ronald McDonald’s delivery van. While that is still on offer, Dave has a new way to let diners endanger their wellbeing.

The Inferno Burger at first glance looks like a substantial meal, the likes of which an American schoolchild might find in their packed lunch.

However, this is where probable psychopath and Bristol man Nick Moore, aka Dr Burnorium, comes in.

The many-tiered burger is plastered with a sauce of Dave’s own recipe, made with Mr Moore’s Psycho Serum, a pure concentration of capsaicin, the chemical that gives a chili its heat.

Psycho Serum is rated at 6.4 million units on the Scoville scale (Tabasco sauce is around 7,000 units), which puts it in the same league as police-grade pepper spray.

Too hot to handle: The challenge started well but soon went south.
Too hot to handle: The challenge started well but soon went south.

The tin carries a warning stating: “Prepare yourself for a mind-blowing trip into a world of unimaginable pain.”

Only a lunatic would use this sinister-looking black paste in anything edible. It takes a special kind of mental case to use a whole jar.

Dave is just that kind of mental case. But creating a condiment that could be used as a riot control measure wasn’t enough. Also thrown in are Trinidad moruga scorpion chillies, the second hottest in the world, some ghost chillies and an assorted mix of dried varieties.

The Inferno Burger is a traditional affair in its make-up — two eight-ounce beef patties, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and a decent helping of jalapenos. It’s the liberal application of the sauce that turns it into a ticket to Antrim Area Hospital.

“We had one guy who stood up after it and just fell down,” recalled Dave as we waited for the Inferno to arrive.

He explained that his in-house measuring kit was Mary, a waitress who samples the  sauce with a cocktail stick. If she can’t stand this small amount without drinking something, then Dave reckons it’s up to scratch.

The whole burger and a side of spicy fries must be eaten in 30 minutes or less, without drinks, plus a five-minute waiting period afterwards.

At just £9.45, there has been no shortage of souls trying their luck, but no one has beaten the current sauce. One woman who had a go was left wrapped round a toilet for 45 minutes. Another man left the restaurant in tears.

Before you begin, a disclaimer must be signed and witnessed, then you are handed a large bucket and two pairs of surgical gloves to protect your skin.

Burned out: The burger is made with Psycho Serum which proved too much for Chris.
Burned out: The burger is made with Psycho Serum which proved too much for Chris.

The tales of past victims made me consider turning heel, as did the photographer’s wish of “good luck”, which sounded like how you would say it to a mate facing serious criminal charges. I reasoned that the best option was to tackle the beef as quickly as possible as it had the most sauce. This idea turned out to be up there with Lord Raglan saying to himself: “I reckon the Light Brigade could have those guns”.

I extracted the skewer holding the thing together, separated the two burgers, and tore into them. For the first few bites, all seemed to be going to plan but soon, like a mugger waiting for me round a corner, it struck with a chemical shock that went to the core of my head via my tongue. The tingling spread from the middle of my face to the little and third fingers of each hand.

With one patty down and most of the second gone, I strained my willpower to such an extent that I felt like I could give up smoking and bacon sandwiches on the spot.

Can't stand the heat: Chris admits defeat in the burger battle.
Can't stand the heat: Chris admits defeat in the burger battle.

It was no use, this was something different. Soon my feet felt like I was wearing a pair of solid gold Dr Martens. My heart was beating at a rate that would tell a doctor I had just sprinted up a flight of stairs to Pluto. The room tilted one way then the other as I struggled to rid the flashing lights from my peripheral vision.

By this stage the capsaicin was running amok, breaking windows and starting fires up and down my body, causing my fingers to contract against my hands in almost unbearable agony.

At 15 minutes I stopped but, not wishing to wimp out entirely, I decided to retain some honour by waiting until the 30 minutes were up before taking a drink. It was foolish — you wouldn’t wait 15 seconds before trying to put out a trouser fire — but I managed it. Never have two pints of milk and a bowl of vanilla ice cream tasted like they came from Zeus’s table.

I say this in all sincerity: think carefully before attempting this challenge. If you have a weak heart or breathing problems, DO NOT take the risk.

It’s a bit of fun reading about me suffering while cooking the Sunday fry, but there are plenty more reporters where I came from.

Safaris can be fun but the animals are still dangerous.

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