“DON’T just have a little bit, take a proper bite,” says Mark. Believing him to be sincere, I do just that and for a moment I can’t work out what all the fuss is about.
Then the burning starts, and it gets more and more intense until, a few minutes later, I can’t feel my lips and my stomach burns.
“It feels like an alien is eating your belly, doesn’t it?” says owner Ron Etheridge with a wide grin. It does, Ron. It does.
All I had was one healthy bite of a chilli-laden sausage at Villagers Fine Sausages in Beckenham.
On Saturday, people will line up and pay money to test themselves in a Man v Food-style challenge to see if they can eat four of the beasts in three minutes.
It costs £5 to enter and those who succeed win a t-shirt, sausages and the envy of their fellow competitors while those who don’t fork out £20. Win or lose, you’ll feel the burn and it ain’t pretty. Money raised goes to Help for Heroes.
Villagers already does a few hot sausages, like the Red Snapper – named for Ron’s fiery redhead dad. It contains pork, red chillies, paprika, sage, garlic and capsicum and is the basis for the vicious meat feast diners can expect, although the chillies are replaced with Naga or Ghost chillies which give it a Mike Tyson-style punch.
The chillies are so potent that they cost £60 a kilo to import.
Villagers, which Ron set up in 1995, runs these chilli sausage challenges every couple of months to benefit different charities.
As well as allowing me a little sample, Ron arranges for two of his staff – 24-year-old production manager Aron Fey and 18-year-old Saturday boy Shane Lavender – to give it a go.
The table is set up with the sausages on, mugs of milk ready to cool the burn after and a camera poised to capture the carnage. There’s a bin nearby, ‘just in case’.
Both men look nervous as Ron, wearing a Sex, Drugs and Sausage Rolls t-shirt, introduces the challenge before firing up Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire on the iPod.
It is obvious early on the Shane is in trouble; his face and lips reddening and eyes water. The first sausage lingers and he starts to shake.
Meanwhile, Aron is chomping through. He’s got a sweat on and swollen lips and he grimaces as he takes bite after bite after bite. His eyes bulge as he goes for glory, dusting off the fourth sausage in two minutes 10 seconds.
It’s a new record and it’ll take some beating on Saturday.
There is a post-script for anyone thinking it’s a breeze for Aron. When I leave 20 minutes later, he is shivering, his eyes and lips are vivid red and he’s consumed enough milk and ice cream to put Jersey on red alert. It has taken it’s toll.
Get down to Villagers in Beckenham High Street from 1pm on Saturday (February 1) to take part.