Is My Chili Good Enough to Win a Competition?

C. Coimbra photo

Promise. This is the last of my question blogs.  I intended posting three separate question-blogs to stir up some social heat. The third question eluded me–although the temptation to ask if my morals were lesser than yours kept stirring about in my head like a steaming bowl of beans.

The bowl of beans analogy, along with an invitation to judge a community chili cook-off  enlightened the third—and possibly—the most important of my three question-blogs: “ Is My Chili Good Enough to Win a Competition?”

When invited to judge your local Chamber of Commerce’s annual chili cook-off you learn two things about yourself as seen through the eyes of your community:  1) You know a little bit about food; 2) You are probably full of beans. Bingo on both.

Of course I said yes.  I also suggested that my celebrity chef daughter might serve as a judge since she was in the neighborhood for another cooking event that weekend.  The appreciative yes echoed from the chamber’s Main Street locale to the walls of my two-story home. With the judging organizer and our community’s Citizen of the Year, my daughter and I braved 14 hopeful chili cooks and their best chili recipes.

rattlesnake quickfireI freaked out when the local paper promoted the event mentioning my daughter’s Top Chef/Texas badges.  My eyes bulged.  My throat tightened.  My heart jumped and jived. No, I had not bit into a habanero chili.  It was the Top Chef ref.  “OMG!  Some smarty-pants chili cook-off guy is going to make rattlesnake chili,” I squealed louder than opposing politicians on a talk show. You see, my daughter won the first Quickfire Challenge that season.  She earned $5,000 for her Beer-Battered Tempura Rattlesnake.     And if one of the 14 local chili contestants read that front page story,  googled my daughter,  then discovered her hidden talent with reptile on the plate—OMG!!! I don’t care if the Pope makes rattlesnake chili, I won’t taste it.

Fortunately, to the best of my knowledge, the contestants stuck with the usual meats—beef, pork or poultry.  Believe me, I picked through those 14 tasting bowls and examined the meat like a cop on a manhunt.

I consider myself an amateur chili connoisseur—especially after twenty years in Santa Fe where locals debate chili quality like Texans debate real Tex-Mex.  As far as I’m concerned, New Mexico mastered the art of chili powder.  I love my California Anaheim chilies, but they pale in the face of a New Mexican Hatch chili.  And the best of all the chilies from New Mexico grow in the high country of Chimayo, NM. I crave those chilies.  Chimayo chilies turned me from a simple California girl who loved everyday chili into a chili-head—one that is unabashedly addicted to chili.

And this is how I wound up in a red and green haze yesterday morning:  I gave

Chef Dakota Weiss tastes the chili.

Chef Dakota Weiss tastes the chili.

each of the 14 chili contestants a fair tasting.  I narrowed down the 14 entries to my favorite seven.  Then started the process over and picked my favorite five, and then repeated my tastings to find the top three.  That’s a bunch of chili.  But with a tasty beer pallet-cleanser, all was good.  Every contestant was a winner and deserved a trophy, but rules are rules.

As fate would have it, Saturday night, after the cook-off,  my good buddy from New Mexico, now living several blocks from the Pacific Ocean near us, celebrated his birthday.  Dinner, at his request, was chili.  Frito Pies, to be exact.  Stacks of frozen roasted New Mexico chilies fill his freezer.  And, yeah, his daughter made the best chili of the day.  Lucky for the earlier 14 chili chefs, she didn’t enter the contest.  Her chili was so good that I had two helpings.

Sunday I woke up with a chili hangover.  I never met a hangover that I liked.  My tummy begged for nothing spicier than plain non-fat yogurt.  But like a heavy drinker, I’ll be back for more chili soon.  As a matter of fact, I pulled out my stash of ground Chimayo chili powder for tomorrow’s homemade pot of chili—which I’m positive is good enough to win a competition.

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