About a week ago, I was told I was entered in a chili cookoff contest. Somehow, a warm smile from Josh, some encouragement from Tim, and the promise of support from other friends enabled me to agree to this crazy idea.
I’m not a competition cook. I cook for myself and I cook what I enjoy. I happen to enjoy chili with a good pound of kitchen respect. Chili, as I see it, is serious business. Warm, comforting, saucy and spicy, chili is one of those things that everybody loves yet no one seems to be able to agree upon. Do you make it with or without beans? Ground meat or cubes? Cornbread or spaghetti noodles? Not to mention the type of chili peppers used!
Since I agreed to partake in this
ludicrous activity fun contest and because I have such a profound respect for the dish, I decided to take my entry seriously. I am now bound and determined to bring forth a dish worthy of being called chili.
In order to do so, I’ve been reading and examining recipe after recipe. I’ve read numerous articles, books and other chronicled attempts at making a crowd pleasing chili. I’ve listened to podcasts, watched television shows and sought the advice of my culinary colleagues. The enormous amount of information I’ve gathered resulted in a giant pot of chunky mess in my brain. If I was to give this information a good stir, and allow the good stuff to sink in, this is what I would be able to serve:
Chili is defined by region. Primary influences include Texas Chili (made with beef chunks, red sauce and no beans), New Mexico Chili (made with Hatch or other green chilies, white beans and often pork), Cincinnati-style (ground meat served atop spaghetti noodles with sweet spices like cinnamon or all-spice) and California-style (with black bean variations, cilantro and lime juice).
All chili is hot. This means that not only is your chili spicy to the taste, it also has to be served at a certain temperature. Why is this important? In thinking of the contest, I will be using a crock-pot to transport and maintain the temperature of my dish. Even on the lowest setting, my chili will be cooking, depending on how long it stays in the crock-pot. So extra time needs to be factored into my recipe.
Chili is budget-friendly. Regardless of chili style, all recipes seem to use economical ingredients (chuck roasts, chicken, pork shoulders) and beans are fairly cheap. Even fresh chili peppers, like habenero, jalapeno and poblano, don’t cost much and therefore I will be able to experiment quite a bit.
The contest has been divided into three categories: Most Spicy, Most Authentic and Most Original. Judges will be a panel of whoever shows up that day and is not entered in the contest. Everyone will be served a small cup-size sample of the entry. There are fifteen registered contestants.
My strategy is simple: go for the Most Original category. Most Spicy is not how I cook. I am someone who tends to balance my dishes, so going overboard on spice is not something I can do. The Most Authentic category is too subjective for me, as the judge could be from any region in the country. Most Original means that I can take everything I know and create (or re-create) a dish that I deem worthy of being called chili.
So that’s where I stand. How will it end up and how will my dish turn out? I’ll let you know after Sunday.