Cookoff – Take 2

2012.Jul.02 Monday · 4 comments

in Food & Recipes, Life

It’s always a great thing to see when the organizers of a repeating event don’t repeat their mistakes. Not that there were many made that could have been foreseen in last year’s BA Chili Cookoff – most of what didn’t work had to do with an unexpectedly large crowd turnout that just overwhelmed what had probably been a reasonably well thought out plan. This year, the Dan, Frank, Larry team and whomever else helped them get it all together not only started with a bigger space, but planned out the logistics of how things would run much more thoroughly – particularly in the judging arena and how tickets were being sold to attendees.

And this year, as I intimated last, I signed up for the judging – cooking chili isn’t one of my fortes, I can make a respectable one, but it would take some work to bring it up to competition level, and besides, being open for dinners the three preceding days, just when would I get around to cooking it? Also this year, the proceeds, rather than going to a local expat sports club, went for a worthy charity, the Send a Child to School organization that purchases and supplies underprivileged local kids with the various things they need to attend school – like backpacks, notebooks, pens and pencils, lab coats, etc.

The number of cooks near doubled from last year – which I think was 11, we were told there would be 25 this year, though in the end only 19 confirmed their sign up and out of those, 2 simply didn’t show up. On the judging side, the desperate call went out a few weeks back that there weren’t enough (I think last year there were around 10), and suddenly there were 30-some judges, out of which it looked like only around 20 showed, though it’s hard to say. We arrived two hours early at the new Maxim’s restaurant in Palermo, at noon yesterday, to being the judging process. If I have any criticism it might be that a little more guidance on what to look for in the judging process would have been nice – we were just handed sheets of paper and told to give each chili a score on a 100 point scale. And, we weren’t to talk to the other judges about the judging process.

How to divvy that up? Everyone had their own system – on my end I decided on a possible 25 points for the look, 25 for the aroma, 40 for taste, and 10 for just simply, would I want to eat it again? I know that everyone had their own approach, and there was wide variety in experience of the judges – I talked with one who told me he’d never eaten chili before in his life and had no idea what it was so he just picked the dishes that he liked the taste of. And I overheard one who was going from pot to pot asking if there were any hot peppers in each, because he refused to eat anything with hot peppers. I could tell he was getting more and more frustrated and not quite getting the concept – whether he turned in a score sheet or no, I have no idea, but he certainly wasn’t tasting any of the chilies.

And, like last year, there was quite a bit of difference in what people considered to be a chili. While it seemed that this year there were more that strove for the spirit of what chili is, there were still some real outliers, that ranged from Creole to Indian to English mustard (the chili that came in 3rd, officially) for their spice blends. A few too many used chocolate in the mix, which when subtle might add something (in fact, the winner’s chili used some), but keeping it subtle wasn’t in the mix of one or two of those. Beef, pork, lamb, vegetarian. Beans, corn, chickpeas, or none. Truthfully, had this been a chili cookoff in the States probably 90% of the entries would have been disqualified simply on what they contained – “competition chili” is pretty tightly regulated and basically includes not much more than meat, spices and tomatoes. Some were mild, some were hot, though only a very few that really kicked into the “truly spicy” range (which didn’t, as it turned out, include one that promised to be so spicy that it could wake the dead – the young woman ladling that one allowed that she was concerned about how hot it might be so although she used things like habanero chili powder, she only put very small amounts in – kind of defeated the claim). Some sweet, some not. The best thing, however, was that I would say that out of the 17 there were only 2 that I truly would never want to eat again – overall the other 15 ranged from good to great.

2nd Annual BA Chili Cookoff

The judges start checking things out on the first level.

2nd Annual BA Chili Cookoff

And a bit later the attendees start coming in.

2nd Annual BA Chili Cookoff

Johnny Deutsch, the chef behind Magdalena’s Party (which I have yet to get to and/or review), won the cookoff and was my favorite as well, dishes up a steaming ladle of his Patagonian lamb chili. Amazing depth of flavor, the lamb was a great option, a touch of both dark chocolate and espresso in it, and really nice heat level that showed off all the flavors.

2nd Annual BA Chili Cookoff

My second favorite, and I actually went back and forth between the two a couple of times resampling, came from Canadian documentary filmmaker Barry Floch and his partner Facundo Rodriguez Pereyra, a local chef who trained under star chef Francis Mallman, had a secret ingredient beyond a healthy dose of cumin, a good amount of Canadian whiskey added into the pot that just gave the whole thing a really delicious flavor.

2nd Annual BA Chili Cookoff

And a very, very close third came from last year’s winners John Brister (and Angela McCallum), of San Telmo Loft and who is also, apparently, a filmmaker, from Lousiana… go figure. (And not to be confused with John T. Brister, an animated filmmaker who died a few years ago – he hasn’t suddenly resurrected here in BA like Elvis.) John and Angela grow their own chili peppers on the roof of the house and I really liked the fresh pepper taste versus the chili powder stylings of many of the other options. And, for the official results, John came in 2nd this year. Were I to continue on to my fourth place choice, only a point or two behind this one would have to have been Craig Juli’s chili, which won the “chef’s choice” award from the other cookoff competitors (and is semi-pictured in the green t-shirt standing next to Barry in the preceding photo).

So, who knows, maybe next year I’ll think about it in advance and play around with my own chili recipe and enter the competition – it was good fun all around!

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