To begin: There have been a few vodka drinks after a rough day which has my mind on the process of cooking with alcohol. It is no secret I have tried in the past to use Summit’s delicious winter ales and porters in my chilis with the intent to bring out the mindset that my steaming pot of food will bring them warmth and merriment on cold winter nights. There was a year that I used tequila in a batch only to be praised for its warm flavor and downvoted for the same reason by others. Looking out the window today and with the soft memory of sun on my face from the walk this afternoon I began to doubt my previous tactics to win out the crowd this year in the chilifest competition. This year I plan to win, not just to try my hand at an idea I think will win.
Over the years of working with my family and friends to bring us all together and have a night of food and happiness I have come around to the idea of competing. For those who know me, I am not a competitor – in any sense of the word. In the halls of history I place my winnings in the same rooms that I hold minor trophies for small bowling accomplishments and that time I won the best decorated derby car in cub scouts [but not the fastest!]. Cooking has always been in a different part of my house, not in the modest trophy room I keep undusted.
It brings me to those strands of memory in which I was taught to cook; brought in to experience what it means to bring the ingredients into a dish and what those meant to the overall meal that it provided our hungry family. It was customary that as soon as you had a head over the counter that you would help cook a meal for those in the house. The best part was the ‘secret ingredient’ in which we were able to pour one part of a vial, a jar, or a random container in the cupboard, and see if the family could place what we had added. For those of you who have been to the Chilifest in the past know this from Joan’s needed explanation of their ‘secret ingredient’ every year that may give the men an edge.
The words “Instant Coffee”, “Bacon,” “Chorizo”, “Hominy”, and even “A slight dose of MSG” have been announced at these moments that the cooks have been questioned. And these are the ones that I remember from the lineup of winners in our almost 10 years of friendly competition. My ingredients have been “Tofu”, “Curried Beans”, “Pork Shoulder brined in Porter”, and the aforementioned “Tequila”. The comparison to those who don the belt of victory to my outlandish ideas have reigned me in,
Don’t view this is as a bash on the judges who have voted me low due to my venturous nature. I have loved every chili that I have created. This is a call out to those who have had and enjoyed my reaching into the cupboard to explore those flavors yet unexplored in our competition. You are the real MVPs. This year my head is above the counter but my mind is on the trophy room. I can use all the secret ingredients I want but I know that what wins is not ‘warmth and merriment’ but the spoon that brings in the flavors even the smallest of children imagine when the soup is dropped off in front of them.
Get ready judges, this spoonful’s for you. See you on Saturday.