OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA — He plays with fire every time he steps out the back door.
Ilesh Patel is from the Indian state of Gujarat which grows some of the hottest spices in the world, including the Ghost Pepper.
Patel knows how to coax even more heat from his tiny farm, basically starving his produce just before picking.
“If you starve them 3 to 4 days for water you’ll get the hottest variety of the crop,” he says.
Patel also says Ghost Peppers are tame compared to his still ripening Trinidad Scorpions, Cobra Chilis, or the hottest of them all, his Carolina Reapers.
“That sounds evil,” says a garden visitor.
Control of the Patel’s kitchen has long since been relinquished to Ilesh’s often fiendish experiments.
When he first moved to the United States Patel hated the blandness of American food.
He’s a 20 minute drive from the nearest Indian grocer so to prepare the food he liked he had to grow his own.
“And that’s how I found different varieties of the hot pepper,” he explains.
The bargain he struck with his family and guests is that he tones the heat down just enough for someone besides himself to be able to eat it.
“My wife thinks that I am crazy,” he chuckles. “She thinks that I will get an ulcer soon but I don’t think so.”
His salsa is fresh and lemony with a heat that stays for a food 3 minutes.
His guacamole is tame by comparison.
His barbecue sauces are strictly ‘3 alarm’ or hotter.
“He’s not sweating,” says Patel after spoon-feeding his visitor a sample of his barbecue sauce.
“Not yet,” responds the visitor.
Ilesh does roast some of his hottest peppers to dilute their spicy heat.
But every once in a while, when the family is away, he’ll go all out and make something only he can stand to remind him of home and the home fires that still burn in his stomach.
“I can make it hot,” he laughs.
Patel works as a civil engineer at Tinker Air Force Base.
He enters his department’s chili cook-off with something spicy every year.