In the world of chili cook-offs, some win, some lose, and some just eat a good lunch. At the recent Chili Cook-off Challenge in Pine, which raised money for the senior center, hoards of people paid $3 for little plastic cups to sample the goods stuffed under the ramada.
Chili recipes varied as much as their chefs. The love of competition attracted cooks as much as dedication to the craft. For an exhibitionist chef, pleasing the multitudes with a delicious comfort food surely bests satisfying a few dinner guests.
Word spread quickly that one man in particular offered a mean recipe. It not only tangled the taste buds; it surprised the eyes.
In a sea of red filled crock pots, LeeRoy Watson’s pot was filled with green. Green chili from Hatch, N.M., to be exact.
“At a lot of cook-offs, I’ll be the only one with green,” Watson said. The differentiation paid off.
Taste tester Angie Winkyaw, why did you fill your cup with green chili? “Because everything else was red,” she said. “You look like a professional with this setup,” she told Watson, looking at his camping stove and pots. “You’ve done this before, huh.”
Indeed, Watson has traveled around the country to chili cook-offs. In 2007 at the International Chili Society’s World Championship Chili Cook-off, he took third place in the people’s choice award among a field of 146.
“I was pretty proud about that,” Watson said. Watson took third in Pine’s competition Saturday.
Gary Rains took first place for his take on a chili that Elizabeth Taylor reportedly favored. Old Hollywood glamour met Western flair with buffalo meat, cilantro and sour cream.
Second-place winner, 12-year-old Nick Schneider, used steak and various beans. A cooking hobbyist, Schneider wandered around supermarket aisles for inspiration and created his recipe.
“I wanted to see if I could win,” said Schneider about why he entered the competition.
Other cooks took a more scientific approach. Dave Edwards created a spreadsheet with various chili recipes, calculating the averages of different ingredients and compiling a recipe. He competed against his wife, Denise.
“We like to compete,” Dave said. “We like to cook, but ...”
“I like to cook,” Denise assured a reporter.
May the best recipe win.
Cheri Olney has perfected her Texas chili over a decade. Good spices are the secret to a good chili, she said. However, Olney competed for the cause, not for glory. “I just wanted to help raise money for the senior center,” she said.
Don Bulgrin has also cooked chili for a decade, but the cook-off marked his attempt at a new recipe. It featured farm-raised elk ordered from ElkUSA. Bulgrin said he came for the “willing guinea pigs” wandering the ramada. Surely they offer an honest opinion.
Jane Wilcox, however, predicted most guinea pigs would not look upon her chili favorably. She doubted her recipe would win.
“It’s so unique,” she said. She used 15 different varieties of chilies that she grows in containers.
A good chili, said Wilcox, should not need additives to taste good. No cheese, no salt, no pepper. “You should just be able to scoop it out and eat it,” she said. Hers contained slow-roasted pork with a red pepper marinated chicken that she grilled.