God help the cook who brags he can make the best pot of red chili in the land.
Or is it spelled c-h-i-l-l-y, as in the temperature this morning? Or c-h-i-l-e, like that place way down south that exports decent red wine?
The worlds gourmands, including those sampling the goods at Snowdown Bites 2011 Chili Cook-off, cant even agree how to spell chili, let alone make a list of what should go in it.
Heres what really bites: Eighteen cups of red chili made their way around the judges table. Having already sampled the salsas and green chili, not to mention the beer, Bloody Marys and tequila, our taste buds were numbed. So was my moral compass.
Thats my excuse for stealing the judges notes. Want to see what those skanky monsters secretly scribbled in the margins about cup No. 15?
Too much tomato.
Sweet. Way sweet.
Are you kidding me?
Chili con carne?
Low heat; too bland.
Good chili yum! FINALLY.
Doesnt this sound just like Durango? Give a drunk a Styrofoam cup full of chili, a plastic spoon and a Tagamet, and suddenly youve got an expert, a critic weighing in, shamelessly tossing in his 2 cents worth.
Good thing no one takes us seriously.
Lets just ignore that decades-old argument that started in Texas about whether or not beans are a disgrace added to chili. Who cares?
Saturdays Snowdown event wasnt a sanctioned chili cook-off. It was a bunch of Durango folks who forked over an average of $200 per booth to buy ingredients to compete for their best shot at the prize.
The idea was to have a good time slicing, dicing, chopping and dropping goodies into the chili pot all morning, so the rest of Durango could have fun feasting on the offerings.
Thats what motivates Clarice Marteeny, former first- and second-place winner in both salsa and red chili categories.
I do it because its fun. If you win, that makes it an extra-good experience, she said.
Marteeny talks about the camaraderie among the contestants, who often ask each other to sample and correct seasoning before the judges blind tasting begins.
Taste this, and see what you think, they say.
There is a lot of socializing, laughing and good-natured teasing among the regulars, Marteeny said. She arrived at 6:30 a.m. Saturday to hold booth space for the handful of contestants who meet every year to strut their stuff.
Event coordinator Greg Yucha said a couple thousand folks packed the Fairgrounds Exhibit Hall for the Sunnyside Farms Market-sponsored event that awarded more than $1,000 in cash prizes and raised about $5,000 for the Snowdown general fund. The happy crowd went through 80 gallons of chili, at 50 cents a sample. Because contestants cooked greater amounts and more cooks participated, We didnt run out by 1 p.m. this year, he said.
James Chavez, first-place winner in the red chili category, says roasting his Hatch green chiles on the grill paid off. The $250 prize about covers my cost, for the 8 gallons he prepared for the event. The mechanic and 11-time contestant has been a past winner in all categories, including Peoples Choice. Initially he participated because his wife coaxed him to enter. Now he does it because he enjoys meeting the crowd.
First-place winner in the green chili category, real estate agent Charles Rigby, described his winning entry as intensely flavored. Rigby has participated in highly competitive, sanctioned ICF Chili Cook-Offs since 1988, but the former Snowdown event coordinator had never been a contestant in Snowdowns annual cook-off. He said he tempered the hot Hatch green chiles with an equal number of medium hot, in response to local preference. The addition of Sazon Goya Achiote intensified the flavor, he said.
The real fun of the cook-off occurs long before the judging ... Once people have the courage to enter, theyll see that its a lot of fun, said Rigby.
He talked of the community of contestants who party as much as the spectators and of the pride contestants take in decorating their booths.
Rigby said he was confident he had a winner.
I knew I was going to win the green ... That was the best green chili Ive ever made, he said.
Pots of red and green chili had all the expected punch from shredded and ground pork, beef, turkey, chicken, every type of pepper you can imagine, garlic, cumin, onions and oregano.
Some entries included tomatoes, yellow squash, cilantro, cheese, corn, beans, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, beer, beef broth,barbecue sauce, celery, bacon and salmon. You read that right. Salmon.
Now Id be a bald-faced liar if I pretended all the judges raved about this unique chili entry in the Vegetarian/Alternative category. Were too conventional to move that far to the left. Or maybe I should say that far to the right.
Hey! Isnt the Maverick Salmon the state bird up in Sewards Ice Box, not to mention Sarah Palins smartest friend?
I know this much: If there were a trophy awarded for Biggest Cojones, no question the guy who entered his moms original recipe for Smoked Salmon Chili deserved the prize, hands-down. At least thats my opinion.
But what do I know? According to the crowd, Alaska transplant Eric Kalks chili ranked right up there among the best. He ran out of 4 gallons in less than an hour, with folks lining up for seconds. This was Kalks second year competing with the creative concoction, a product of his familys resourceful use of the summers catch from the waters near their Sitka fishing cabin.
I think it kinda still freaks out the judges, Kalk said.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Durangos Karen Brucoli Anesi was a judge in the 2011 Snowdown Chili Cook-Off.