Minnesota Mild Chili Cookoff 2012- First Posting

Just a quick posting on the great evening we just had at the Minnesota Mild Chili Bake Off. The six of us threw down the gauntlet in the best collection of chilies yet. Isaac’s coordination with the folks at Turtle Bread resulted in a great location for the 39+ people in attendance. The social hour had a room to itself with plenty of room to properly mull and converse waiting for the main event. Guests did not disappoint with better than ever side dishes and brews provided by those in attendance.

Once things were ready and the time was right the crowd began sampling and judging the goods. Seven chilies were presented with one being a reference chili provided by a professional chef. The crowd made their way through the selections in a little over an hour with much discussion of the variety this year. Two of the chilies were legitimately hot and one a curry-based chili. Beef, pork, chicken, turkey were all present with starches ranging from garbanzo to hominy.

Lisa collected the judging sheets and Kyle tabulated them and announced the winners. Look for a later post with details and recipes from the winners, but briefly: Doug Trevor, Kyle, and Isaac took away honors in various categories with Doug taking overall winner and Trevor securing second place just .01 points behind. Good comments on all the chilies and a great crowd to spend time with on a warm February evening. Exciting to see so many familiar faces show up at the door! It was also good to not have a snowstorm on the day of the event.  Getting to and from last year’s event was a bit of a struggle for all.

Here’s some comments from Scott H.- one of the attendees:

I’m sure no one was surprised that the Man-cuisine Chili Cook-off was a literate event. You had to expect that the invitees would use words that have multiple meanings and that definitions would be demanded and discussed. After all, the hosts do. Great things happen when people who are passionate about food and language get together.

It was my first time in attendance and I was trying to get my head around the rating system. I asked Trevor if he could define chili. He got a look on his face that was simultaneously far-off and focused. I’ve come to understand this is a trademark Johnson expression that means that one of the great questions has been addressed and that the gears are turning. “No”, he replied, “I can’t give you a definition of chili.” This from the defending champion. 
I’m sure the contestants have contemplated the question. Embedded in the judging was the psychology of our own, individual, ideal chili. People were talking about it in line and at the tables. Must chili have beans? What meat is implied in chili? Would a noodle fly or would that make it goulash? What is the role of heat in the quality of a good bowl? It seems clear to me that there is a viscosity factor. The thinnest entrants (2,4 and 6) seemed more like soup and didn’t fare well in the final standings.
The meanings of the criteria were also debated. Umami was nice because it cannot be assessed without really thinking about it. It belongs to the essence of chili, but what does it taste like? Marketability yielded opposite definitions; some saw it as a rating of universality (could this soup be sold to the masses) and others saw it at a rating of originality (would people go out of their way to eat this special bowl). 
In the end, the labels a judge applied to the numbers revealed their root feelings. “The one with mushrooms”, “the gray one”, and “the Indian one” all described number 5, Isaac’s third place finisher. “The dark one” (1, Kyle’s), “the one with corn” (3, second place, Trevor’s) and “the one with two meats” (7, Doug’s, the champion). These seemed to rank higher in the end, perhaps because they stood out in way that was describable…unique but within the realm of our imaginations.
Record keeping and the revelation of recipes is not part of this tradition, which is too bad, because I’d like another taste of almost all of these. So, as I wade into my own kitchen to prepare the Super Bowl meal, I’ll rely on my own tried and true chili concept.

Look for recipes here soon. Keep warm!


Additional photos from the event: The discussion, the crowd, the entries, and the beer. (~Trev)

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