Thursday, February 17, 2005

Chili Nights

I've always been a fan of chili. Ever since I was a kid I always looked forward to Chili Night. It wasn't a regular affair, like every other Thursday. Rather, I'd get home from school, barge in the front door "Mommy, I'm home!" and get a nose-full of chili smell. Although I can eat chili every day of the year, it's best to me when the weather is cool. On the turn. Not too hot, not freezing, just a little nippy.

After many years of making chili I found myself volunteering to judge a Chili Contest. Why it couldn't be a Beer Contest I'll never know, but chili it was and I had to learn, get certified, actually, how to do it properly. For our region or whatever there were five attributes to chili:


Each worth 20 points to total 100. I was amazed that "taste" was worth only 20% of the score, but one could argue that "bite" was part of taste, so maybe nearly half the points were taste.

The first year I was a judge I handled the First Round Chilis. I was like the Chili Filter so the "real" judges wouldn't get poisoned. I got to sample the Chocolate Ice Cream chili, and the Roadkill chili (there's always a "roadkill" chili and it often does not contain bone fide roadkill, but you never know) and Experimental Chili Number 1-thru-999, and Aunt Bertha's Killer Lint Chili, and you get the drift.

Most of those first round chilis never make it to Round Two.

As a learner judge I thought what could go wrong with chili? Just cook it for a couple of hours and it's good stuff. Time, as we cooks know, cures many ills.

How wrong I was.

In chili contests time can actually magnify mutations. Time can yield yuckiness. Time can produce a patina sheen on a chili that you have no idea what it is, but the taste is metallic. Iron Chef, yes; Iron Chili, no.

However, I survived my trial by fire and roadkill and graduated to Round Two the next year. Round Two is where it's at. The filtered chili is judged at Round Two and we were presented with some very delicious entries. In my book the chili that was best was the one you could eat all day, every day for every meal, forever. To the end of time forever. Good stuff chili. We had two or three of those every year and they were worth waiting for. Perfect balance of meat, tomato, onion, chili and spices. No weird stuff. No roadkill. Just skill and love in a pot.

And that brings me to this weekend. We're going camping and I think I'll to a Dutch oven chili. Cooked for many hours over wood coals. Yep, I can smell the oak fire already.

It' will be a winner.

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