Cooking chili is a lot like playing the bass guitar: It's easy to get by on, but deceptively difficult to really do well. I've cultivated a profound love for this beany Mexican-born dish over the years, and it got me through a lot of lean years in high school and college. A good chili possesses a protein-and-fiber-rich heartiness that sticks to the ribs, and sports enough spiciness to give the taste buds at least a little bit of a spank. It also initiated my abiding lifelong fondness for spicy foods in general.
So it was a massive honor--and an undeniable pleasure--to be chosen as a celebrity judge for the first annual Ballard Great Chili Cook-Off. The Cook-Off drew a large, enthusiastic crowd of at least four-dozen happy eaters, and Re-Bar raconteur/Get Loweded mastermind Chas Roberts hosted.
Four phenomenal cooks created four vastly different variations on the venerable staple food, and The Clash of the Con Carnes took place at the Sunset Hill Community Center; a great time, and full bellies, were had by all.
Chili 1 waltzed the furthest 'outside the box' in its construction. The only veggie offering of the day, it sported butternut squash, corn, and a nice peppery/sweet undertone. Good stuff, almost more of a soup than a chili.
Chili 2 skewed closer to the traditional chili model with pork, red beans, and jalapeno and poblano peppers rearing their zesty heads. The peppers added a piquant heat that did, indeed, spank my tastebuds just enough to titillate.
If Chili 3 were a human being, it'd be the brawniest, most muscular stud on the beach. The thickness of this pot of goodness damn near bent my spoon, and the ingredients--chicken, genuine smoked pork, stout beans--combined to a near paste, barbecue-sweet, smoky, and flavorful.
Last but certainly not least came Chili 4, another more traditional-leaning bowl of magnificence. Andouille sausage, chicken, red beans, and a zesty tomato base made for yet more yum.
No, the decision was NOT easy.
In addition to myself (the Cultureophile, farthest left), I was joined at the judges' table by (continuing left to right) Moms Sue and Mary, Ketchup and Soup Food Blogger Sarah, and Genuine Texan Sean. All of us agonized over the final choice, and I for one had to go back for, um, seconds. All in the interest of accuracy, you understand.
Musical entertainment was provided by Youth Rescue Mission, a fine trio co-fronted by Friday Mile's Hannah Williams. Their tight harmonies and exuberance made for great dining ambience.
Two prizes--the Judges' Award and the Audience Favorite--were handed out. Santos' excellent Chili #2 (a family recipe) won the Judges' prize.