Since retirement, one of the pleasant privileges that has fallen my way as a result of being a long time food <insert favorite appropriate noun here> is that I have been asked to “judge” the annual chili cook-off at my old office on base. Each year the ITT folk raise funds for needy military families by having a “contest” where people bring in a pot of chili from their favorite recipe and people can have a bowl (or two) for a donation to the fund. For fun, first, second, and third places are awarded by an esteemed panel of judges (and me).
So yesterday I drove back to “the hangar” for the judging, which was to commence at ten, before the general lunch at eleven. Nothing says heartburn like tasting chili at ten in the morning. Anyway I arrived at the break room where the contestants were neatly lined up simmering away
Before getting to the judging, perhaps a little perspective is warranted. I probably have said much the same thing before, but if your memory is like mine is getting, it won’t make any difference. Chili is one of those foods where (my favorite word) “best” is not really applicable. Kind of like crab cakes, there are so many styles that no one pot stands above another. Beans, no beans, meat, no meat, vegetables, no vegetables, hot, spicy, mild, sweet, pungent, red, white, take your pick. So picking one is highly subjective and is reflective only of individual taste.
There are, however a few things that do make a difference. Consistency, for instance, should be appropriate for the ingredients. Beans and red sauce should be (IMHO) have a nice thick characteristic, not runny or transparent. Aroma should be of the spice, not just hamburger (or whatever meat). Colors should be rich, not gray.
And what I enjoy is something that is complex, not one dimensional. Different layers of taste should unfold as you put it in your mouth. Not just BAM, here comes the cayenne, jalapeño, or (God forbid (for me)) habanera immediately searing your tongue and preventing any further taste to happen. Balance is important; no one thing should dominate. And for those who want their chili as hot as possible, fine if that is what you want, just don't invite this Feeder..
So we set about sampling all seven of the pots.
Making notes and awarding points for aroma, consistency, taste, color, etc..
Scored by whatever appealed to you.
All were very good, there were two “white” chili’s, both of which I thought were very good, one especially had a great chili aroma, more of a green Anaheim chili characteristic than the normal red. In the end, I sort of went with a more traditional (to me) choice of a standard red with meat and beans, kind of like the one pictured above. What set it apart for me was that it had an interesting spicy nose, making you wonder… is that cayenne? Cloves? Maybe nutmeg? Very intriguing. And once in the mouth it treated you to all those flavors again. And it had one of those “sneaky” heats. When you first have a spoon, it’s “oh, this is pretty mild!” then ten seconds or so later, that little flush comes to the forehead. Fortunately for me, that’s where it ended. Long time readers will remember that spicy heat is not my favorite thing. Covers up too much and I am not into painful eating. Other judges liked the same pot so it “won” although they all did..
So it was a lot of fun, generated some monies to help some have a more pleasant holiday, and best for me, I got to see some of the people I used to work with. That was really nice. Those of you about to retire, that’s the hard part.