“Hard work, but someone’s got to do it!” goes the adage, usually with a quirky grin to indicate that it’s not a negative thought. Passers-by at the judges’ table at last Saturday’s Chili Cook-Off agreed that the four of us ladies had an enviable job, sampling and evaluating each of the 14 entries, some with accoutrements which may have enhanced the dish but not influenced the judges.
We went strictly by the taste, texture and consistency of just the chili. For the popular vote, participants got a quarter cup of chili to eat, which did not seem like much at the time, but many folks reported that the total of 14 quarter cups was plenty. For $5 they cast one ballot for their favorite, with the total votes tallied for a first, second and third place trophy.
Entrants delivered a bowl of their chili to the judges’ table, with their names not visible on the underside, and placed them on a number which did not correspond to their booth identification. That’s the nature of “blind judging,” not a scarf over our eyes. To their credit, not one tried to influence us upon delivery, and at 1 p.m. as scheduled they came to us so fast and furious we could not have identified them even if we had scoped out the cooking process in advance.
On the other hand, you would not believe how many people approached us with comments on why this or that one should win — almost a campaign. We responded, “We cannot be swayed by your opinion, but be sure to cast your ballot over there by the trophies for your favorite.” I think next year we will post a humorous sign that “Judges will not be influenced by blandishments, bribes or bickering.”
Instead, we have a simple guide sheet where we score a total of five points for the sample as we each rotate around the table and eat one teaspoon at a time, different from wine tasting which sometimes involves spitting. As we go, we do not comment to each other, but an occasional “ummm” or “ooof” may be heard. Each year the judges are different people, bringing a variety of backgrounds to the table, pardon the pun.
We may go around sampling two or three times to narrow down our choices, and then we likely will compare notes and considerations. It is amazing how we can arrive at a consensus, considering the variety and unique ingredients, types of beans (Texas style has no beans), and seasonings.
This year Dakota Weiss, professional chef, and her mom Charmaine Coimbra and Citizen of the Year Marcelle Bakula were able to compare to their time in New Mexico, proud of their roasted red or green chili, which I also had tasted and found to be “very hot” and “even hotter.” We are so glad that there is no longer a trophy for “Hottest Chili.”
We agreed that the entrants this year, whether restaurateur, caterer or home cook, all did an excellent job. They were very comparable, whether they included chunks of beef, hamburger, pork or chicken, and whether they were red, white or green chili. The latter are not at a disadvantage, in our estimation. The challenge may be in cooking early enough so that onions, peppers, garlic, chili and cumin will marry to best advantage in the gallons the cooks prepare, without undercooking or scorching. It’s tricky, and hard work, but someone gets to do it.
We had many requests for vegetarian entries, so that’s a challenge for next year. Here’s a recipe for a start, which pleased my friend Harry Farmer. You may choose to go the extra mile and cook the beans from scratch, using fresh tomatoes:
Veggie Bean Pot
1 15-oz can pinto beans
1 15-oz. can black beans
1 15-oz. white beans
1 15-oz. can chopped tomatoes
1 large sweet red pepper, chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, or to taste; minced
1 tblsp. olive oil
3 tblsp. chili powder (New Mexico style is hotter than California)
2 tblsp. cumin powder
1 tblsp. flour
Jalapeno peppers, optional
Read the labels, and use sodium free where possible. Rinse the beans, but use the tomato juices. Sauté the veggies in olive oil (use green bell peppers for greater depth of flavor). Sprinkle with chili powder, cumin and flour; add in the beans and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper if you like; simmer covered at least 30 minutes.