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Published: Tuesday, 5/2/2006

Haute Chili: Cooks gathered in Port Clinton for Chili Society Cook-offs

BY KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR
Chili Verde Chili Verde
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PORT CLINTON Serious chili cooks spent last weekend at the Lake Erie Islands Regional Welcome Center on route 53 competing in two International Chili Society chili cook-offs the 11th Annual Buckeye Regional held Saturday and the 9th Annual Ohio State Chili Cook-off held Sunday.

There were no big pots of chili, no loud entertainment, and no quest for the hottest most spicy taste. Instead smaller pots were used to control the seasoning, the mood was serious fun, and a balance of the flavors was the goal.

Some husbands competed against their wives while other husbands and wives formed teams in an effort to win one or more of the three categories. Their goal was to advance to and compete in the World s Championship Chili Cook-off sponsored and sanctioned by the International Chili Society on Oct. 8 in Omaha where the top prize for Red Chili will be $25,000.

The ICS sanctions more than 300 cook-offs a year throughout the world raising money for charities, according to Ken Kostal, cook-off chairman.

These back-to-back events brought 40 competitors from seven states.

Among them was Jim Weller of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and his wife, Georgia. She won the 1996 World s Championship and he won the 2000 World s Championship. They are the only husband and wife to have accomplished this.

While Mr. Weller was cooking his Red Chili, his wife was not competing. She had already qualified in the all three events at previous chili cook-offs. The three categories are Red Chili, Chili Verde (green), and Salsa.

Recipes are kept close to the heart, yet There is no secret, says Mr. Weller, who works as a design engineer. Chili is traditional food with traditional taste. It s who can cook the best traditional chili. There should be a glow in the front of your mouth and a glow in the back of the mouth with the right amount of salt in the chili. [Judges] want the flavor in the middle of the road.

David Mallory of Scottown in southern Ohio was making Nikki s Revenge Red Chili. It s spicy with good chili flavor. There s no beans in any of these chilies by ICS rules, he says.

Next to him was his wife, Kimberly, making Sun of Nikki Red Chili and Green Chili. Her husband had already qualified in Chili Verde (green) in Harrisburg, Pa., on March 5. They had also competed in Georgia, in two cook-offs in Columbus, and they expect to be in Virginia next weekend. The list can go on to 20 to 25 cook-offs per year.

When we qualify, we quit, she says. We all travel to the same cook-offs. Last year we were gone 12 weekends in a row. We put 20,000 miles on our car. She estimates it can cost $400 to $500 per weekend to participate, with registration fees of $10 to $40 per category, travel, lodging, and food, plus equipment and ingredients for the competition.

We bring everything with us, he says. When we fly we ll get canned stuff and produce when we get there. The stove is the hardest thing to get through the airport. Propane must be purchased at the site of the cook-off.

Jean and Jerry Simmons of Florissant, Mo., frequently travel to chili cook-offs by plane. All of their chili gear is in one suitcase. Plus, we have an ice chest with meat and spices as a carry-on, she says. You can t take propane. We drain the gas from the cook stove. Both will compete in Omaha. Last year they competed in 24 cook-offs.

Not only have Diane and Larry Lentz of Nicholsville, Ky., near Lexington, been on the chili circuit for 15 years, they have both participated in other recipe cooking events such as the National Beef Cook-Off and the Pillsbury Bake-Off.

Caroline and Jim Neves of Ludlow Falls, Ohio, near Dayton, also compete on the chili circuit, fitting in 8 to 10 events per year. This year was different as they were traveling and cooking with their 14-week old twins Nicholas and Madelaine. The babies slept in their stroller for most of the time. We ll have to see how this goes this year, says Mrs. Neves.

Don Eastep Don Eastep
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Jeff Netser of Seymour, Ind., who is the current Chili Verdi World Champion, was making Red Chili and Salsa on Saturday while his wife, Julie, was making Red Chili and Green Chili. Trying to stay consistent with the recipe is the hard part, she said as she was browning and draining meat.

Many of the competitors use small cuts of beef. I slice the beef, stack it, and then freeze it, says Tom Hoover of Columbus. When it s half-thawed I dice it.

Michael London of Sandusky used 60 percent prime rib and 40 percent buffalo in his authentic family recipe. He also used poblano chili pepper, burning the exterior and peeling it back to reveal the flesh with the flavor of natural sugars.

I try to get the chili to where you taste the tomatoes and peppers first and the heat last, says Ted Morgan of Columbus, who was assisted by his wife, Franceen. You make blowtorch chili easily. But you want to taste the flavors like a rainbow.

According to Don Eastep of Springfield, Ill., the secret of making good chili is consistency, whether in the spice or in the timing. You can t put cumin in too soon or it makes it bitter.

You re cooking for the judges, not family and friends, he says. Judges taste in northern Ohio is different from that in Marietta, Ohio. It s not only the temperature, it s also the humidity. You might use more salt in a heated environment like Las Vegas.

Tom Hoover Tom Hoover
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In blind judging, where each entry is given a number, 18 judges sampled Salsa, Chili Verde, and Red Chili. They each have a ballot and taste each entry making comments. Then they give points for their first, second, and third choices, says this weekend s chief judge, Bob Hall of Taylorville, Ill.

Green chili (chili verde) is any combination of meat cooked with green chili peppers, spices, and other ingredients except beans and pasta. It has to taste good, says Mr. Hall, who is a Grand Master, having cooked more than 11 World s Championship Chili Cook-offs. Judges look for the blend of spices and how well they permeated the meat, with not one spice overpowering the other spices.

Red Chili has the same definition as green, except it is made with red chiles instead of the green. Salsa is wide open, says Mr. Hall, who has qualified in salsa and green chili for the World s Championship cook-off. There are no rules.

ICS guidelines look for:

• Good flavoring not too spicy or too bland

• Chili pepper taste not too hot or too mild

• Texture of meat not too chewy or too mushy

• Consistency not too thick or too thin

• Blend of spices and how well they have permeated the meat

• Aroma and color

Judges were given water and tortilla strips to cleanse the palate. Clean spoons were given with every taste from the thermal containers of chili.

George Ruda, owner of Holiday Inn Express in Port Clinton, was a first-time judge. There were variations, he said. Some meats were drier. Some were more moist. Some melted in your mouth. Judging was spicy but good.

These are very good, judge Charlie Baker of Parma said of this year s entries. He had judged the cook-off six times. I look for spices and tanginess and the right combination of meat.

When scorer Diane Schulther totaled the points, the winner of the Buckeye Regional Chili cook-off on Saturday for Red Chili was Jim Weller; winner for Chili Verde was Julie Netser, and winner of Salsa was Diane Lentz.

Winners for the ninth annual Ohio State Chili Cook-off held Sunday were: For Salsa, Scott Barrett of Willow Springs, Ill.; for Chili Verde, Mr. Barrett s wife, Maureen; and for Red Chili, Mr. Lentz.

Don Eastep, sums it up this way: You don t want chili so hot nobody can appreciate it. People say to me Do you make hot chili? I say, I make good chili.

Contact Kathie Smith at: food@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.



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