Things heated up at Hawke's Bay Showgrounds yesterday as competitors ate their way through hot chillies for the opportunity to represent Hawke's Bay in June's Fire Dragon Chillies NZ Chilli Eating Championships.
Six people competed in the qualifying heat, hosted by the Hits Hawke's Bay and Orcona Chilli's 'n' Peppers.
In their first year hosting the event, Orcona co-owner Alvin Watson said they hadn't wanted to make it too easy for the competitors, who had to chew each chilli for 30 seconds before swallowing while resisting nearby bottles of Origin Earth milk.
The heat became too much for some only two rounds in, after eating two jalapeno peppers followed by two cayenne peppers. However for winner Kurt Jones, who chomped his way through five different types of chilli, it was "an enjoyable experience".
"I thought they [competitors] might have hung in there a little bit longer," he said.
"I think I could have gone twice the distance if there had been more people ... I was having fun."
The fun stopped when the Havelock North man and his final adversary, Shayd Tahu, ate the Ghost Chilli.
Mr Watson said according to the Scolville scale, the rating system used to measure a chilli's heat, the jalapenos eaten at the start of the competition had a rating of about 5000. The Ghost Chilli's rating was over a million.
While the heat forced Mr Tahu to bow out, Mr Jones was able to "just handle" the chilli, eating it stalk and all.
When asked the secret to his success, he said: "I just really like hot and spicy food."
Mr Jones won the sum of entrants' fees, a prize pack and a place in the national competition. To prepare himself, he would eat as many hot chillis as he could.