The last time I made chili, I was getting ready to compete in my first Takedown and I was full of vim, vigor, and confidence. I have been humbled since then by the thought that I am going to be a father soon, and that winning isn’t everything. But, I will remind you all, especially Suarez! (JK) that I won that Chili Takedown!
So I found myself with my friend and partner, Nick at Chelsea Market picking up 50 pounds of good lookin’ beef from Dickson’s Farmstead Meats to use in the NY Chili Fest. I was thinking to myself, Oy Vey and Oy Geuvault – here I am again, carrying a small child’s weight in meat. They are so committed to local beef at Dickson’s that I have the feeling that they are feeding livestock in the basement.
A side note, I originally did not want to do the Chili Fest. First of all, we were not eligible to win. Winning happens to be a great motivator when standing over two 5 gallon stock pots that steam your face with meat grease. Second, I had grown a little tired of competing. I realize that I prefer organizing a little bit better. When I compete, I stress. It has led to good results, but I end up so spent with a week of my life vanishing into thin air. I kept asking Nick if he seriously wanted to enter, and every time it was an emphatic, “yes!” I begrudgingly ceded. So, with the help from our wonderful sponsor, Brooklyn Brewery, we jumped into the fray with both feet.
All of this was before I realized that I would be hungover at 10 am on this cold Sunday morning attending my adorable 3 year old nephew’s birthday party. I am giving you this photo as proof of his cuteness:
My nephew’s birthday was so chaotic, fifteen children can feel like thirty as they all run around an indoor padded room full of climbing gear. All the padded foam started to look like pillows, perfect pillows to lay my head and prepare for the afternoon of reckoning. It is funny how a child’s laughter can sound like both angels singing and screaming. Fine line, my friends. But the early wake up call was going to make it tough to keep up my strength for a four hour contest. It was like a freakin’ marathon.
I was hungover because it was one of my best friends’ birthdays and she threw a terrific party the night before – Open Bar, is she crazy!? I forgot to mention that I catered the party, so not only was I making chili, but I was also elbow deep in chopped liver and gravlox – and NO I was not going to a Shivah. All this contributed to me feeling stretched thin. I felt terrible because I couldn’t gather the strength to really help with the chili during the week the way I normally would have.
Okay, so I already told you that we could not win (since Brooklyn Brewery was sponsoring the event). Yet, just entering a contest makes you want to win. We secretly hoped for a massive write in candidacy effort like the recent Senate election in Alaska. As it came closer to lifting the ladle to serve, my competitive juices started flowing.
The biggest challenge for Nick and I when we compete together is: who’s judgment to trust more? Whose recipe are we going to rely on? Chili is a very personal expression. We ended up making “The Chili Experiment” or “The Kitchen Sink Chili.” I think we ended up with 42 different ingredients none of which were beans (this makes Nick very happy, he is more of a meat-ist). To be honest, I think that 31 of the ingredients might have been Nick’s. We just make chili very differently. I do think our Experiment was a success. I thought it was well balanced and very flavorful and very rich, almost an umami bomb. The toppings we devised, I think tempered the richness and made for a complete bite. Each helping was topped with a cilantro, white bean, and garlic puree, and a fried jalapeno chip.
We did have our fans and the longest line. I think we could have come close to winning with this gut-bomb of a chili. It was delicious and a crowd-pleaser. I did not taste all the other competitors out there, which sucks because that was one of the main reasons I was excited to compete. We did’nt have time. It was go from the moment it started. I was so worn out by the end, I don’t care if I ever eat chili again. Well, at least for right now.
To all my friends who compete in the Food Experiments: Bravo! I could not believe how many times I had to describe the dish, my jaw hurt from talking and I’m a neurotic Jew from central casting. As we got on the subway to home, I turned to my wife and told her that I was not going to talk for the duration of the evening. I kept my promise.