Hyannis, MA March 11, 2012
I broke my long stretch of no red meat toady in order to participate as a judge for this wonderful event. 17 firehouses competing for the best chili award. All to help MDA, mind you. My fellow judgess included a restauranteur, a cooking instructor/TV personality and a personal chef. We lined up our water, oyster crackers and plastic spoons....17 chilis? OK, let the eating begin. gulp.
Happy to see small plastic sample cups, the first chili arrived with a moist piece of cornbread and a jello shot. This was going to be interesting. BBQ flavors, great color and good texture (tender meat, even cuts, etc). We rated this on smell, appearance, taste, after taste (lingering flavors) and consistency. Amazingly, all judges agreed on the voting. This is a good sign.
We proceeded to the next chili.....well the next few chilis, one complete with icky sweet jello syringes with a very strong alcohol kick - what was that? Awful was the consesus. Anyway, we are here to taste chili. We tasted bland, over peppered, aka bitter, good chili overpowered by onions - perhaps if they had cooked them longer it could have been really good. Then we had an amazing chili. Deep red in color, even thick ground beef flavor. Nice heat at the end, but not too much. Things are looking up again. This one scored high across the table.
We continued on through a chocolate smelling chili - did they use cocoa, instead of cocoa POWDER? It was way too sweet. A shredded meat chili that looked very promising, but did not quite live up to its promise. We had an incredibly spicy, though not tasty chili. They will win for heat, but what was that? I got tequila and habeneros....my fellow chefs got a kick in the mouth (I guess they were not fans of heat).
Next up, a colorful chili with a pepperonci on top. Almost afraid to try this one, with the smell of vinegar wafting up. I dove in. Surprisingly good. Mixed beans, jalepenos, pepperoncis, bell pepper....pretty and delicious. Despite the vinegary flavors. All agreed this one would be in the running.
Next chili - promising and overall good, but the hominy was a little tough. Next chili had tough fatty meat which dropped it out of the running. We had beans, no beans, soupy to very thick. Dark red to bright tomato color, pork, beef, sausages, veggies, no veggies, one had too much beer (cheap beer to be exact) several needed more salt, one had too much salt. And then the last one arrived.....number 17. Deep breath, one more bite, please don't be bad.
Hmmmm, this is actually good. Good seasoning, good consistency, nice color. OK....another taste. Smoky, little bits of sausage, and ground beef? A touch of heat at the end.....this is actually good. Really good. Phew. Few oyster crackers to clear the palate and decision time. We narrowed it down to 4. So we re-tasted. We all agreed on the winner. 2nd and 3rd place we were a bit split, though we all agreed on who should be in the running. And the vote is in!
We chatted a bit, then headed out to see the event. How very fun - all firehouses had elaborately decorated tables, including the Wild West Barnstable "saloon". 100's of people were milling about, eating chili while a rocking band played. What a fun time - I had no idea a chili contest could provide this much entertainment!
Well to all the firehouses - great job! I commend your efforts, creativity, and time to make your chili, feed the masses and do a job many could not do. If we did not like your chili, I am sorry. If you are one of the winners - congratulations! I hope to come back next year to see what offerings these firehouses will bring - can I request an ancho inspired chili? Maybe a green chili? Just saying......now, can I get a beer?