HOW MUCH CHILI could you eat if offered 25 samples? Visitors to downtown Faribault took on that challenge last Saturday in the Fall Festival Chili Cook-off. For $2 you could buy a plastic spoon and taste-test 25 chilies served at businesses along a five-block area of Central Avenue.
I tried 19 and quit when my stomach just couldn’t hold any more fiery or peppery or anything at all.
My efforts to rate the chilies based on originality, presentation and flavor ended at about taste table five. Although I jotted notes on my Chili Cook-off ballot, I found it impossible to rank them in three categories. That task was just too difficult and time-consuming considering I was also juggling a camera, a camera bag and a notebook, and chatting with people.
But, back to that chili. Here are the notations I made on my ballot, in no particular order: real spicy, very spicy, extremely spicy, beany, blah, sweet/tomatoes, green chili, lots of veggies, Berry Weiss, Argentine, all-meat Texas chili, cinnamon and lots of cilantro, strong beer taste, jalapenos.
There you have it. Now you figure it out. You can, clearly, make chili many, many, many different ways.
If you’re Geek Central, you’ll also masterfully present your chili as “Genuine Nerd Chili. Made with science!” Clever, clever.
Had I rated the Geek’s chili on presentation, I would have given it a one, the highest score, simply because of the creative signage. I would have rated the taste high too. Computer geek John Stepan informed me that his chili included 12 fresh jalapenos (yikes!), three big dried chilies and a habanero pepper. Isn’t that a formula for fire? Honestly, my husband and I heard a buzz on the street about the Geeks’ very spicy chili.
At least two contestants tied the words “a little kick” to their chili offerings. That would be native Argentinean Ozzy Amelotti, who is a chef at The Depot, and the Friendship House crew, which includes three Minnesotans and one Texan (who added the “little kick”).
Two cooks—Carl Mortenson at The Nook & Cranny and Rich Mackey at The Cheese Cave—stirred a bit of brew into their chili pots. Mortenson added his favorite Guinness, creating an Irish-inspired beer (his wife Jeanie revealed) and Mackey poured in Leinenkugel’s Berry Weiss. Surprisingly, I could taste both beers.
By the time I reached Mortenson and Mackey, I was ready for a beer, although I would have preferred mine in a bottle. The hot day and all those fiery spices and peppers passing over my palate were pleading for a cool, refreshing drink of something, anything.
Thanks to the chili servers at Energy Crave, I gulped down a sample of energy tea, which gave me enough energy to cross the street, sample several more chilies, chug a bit of fresh apple cider and end my grazing along the Central Avenue chili smorgasbord.
Even though I officially did not cast a ballot in the Chili Cook-off, I did choose a favorite, which, coincidentally, won the competition. That would be Phi & James “Ribless Chili.” The pair, from Hy-Vee Foods and serving at Creating a Ruckus, concocted a winning recipe that included, among other ingredients, pork ribs, chili powder, cayenne pepper and Thai peppers grown in Phi Ho’s garden.
Coincidentally, Rich Mackey, the winner in last year’s Chili Cook-off, also used pork ribs to create his first-place winning dish. Mackey tied for third this year.
If I had voted for a second-place winner, I would have chosen the Argentine chili with cinnamon and “a little kick at the end,” scooped up by Chef Ozzy at The Cheese Cave.
All in all, the Chili Cook-off presented a wonderful opportunity to explore downtown Faribault, and sample some darned good chilies (and a few not-so-good), on a beautiful autumn day in October.
© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling