The Chili Takedown: The Casserole King Goes For The Triple Crown

Final that grease shimmering?

Final that grease shimmering?

Just three months ago I had never heard of these Cook Offs raging in Brooklyn, and now here I am, victor of the Triple Crown.

The third leg is always the hardest, Barbaro was poised and ready before breaking his leg and winning the hearts of saps everywhere (By the way, the best way to make steak tartare is to incorporate horse meat – 4:1, Cow:Horse. There I go again, always dishing out the free cooking tips).

In the days leading up to the Chili Takedown, I was freaking out. I felt that if I did not win this competition, my first two victories (Casserole Crazy & S’Mac Down) were just flukes. I set out doing these contests so I can meet people, talk food … I am in between jobs, if you know what I mean. I was freaking out because I hadn’t made chili in at least five years. Do you think that’s odd? Don’t most people make chili at least once a year? I asked a friend, “When was the last time you made chili?” He responded with, “When was the last time you visited Lichtenstein?” He was attempting sarcasm.  Apparently, not everyone  makes chili.

So here’s the Chili: Pork Belly, Pig Cheeks, Beef Shoulder, Homemade Roasted Poblano Sausage, topped with Fried Polenta Croutons and Crisp Jalapeno Chips….(in retrospect, that is a little over the top…I have competitive issues)

The Starting line

The Starting line

Is it worth it to go the extra mile? Of course...

Is it worth it to go the extra mile? Of course...

So I undertook a true project. Remember, I am unemployed – I have got the time to do it right. First, I decided that I was going to use classic french technique, but I was going to build flavor at each stage.  A typical French braise or stew, builds flavor in the beginning and finishes with fresh herbs and salt.  Second, I was going to make my own chili paste. Third, I was going to cook the pork belly and the sausage separately (I will write the link to the winning recipe soon. Although frankly, I do not really remember all the quantities).

I digress….So, I get this massive amount of chili in the car, I am driving less New Yorker-y than usual because I want the chili in the pot and not in the car. Could you imagine the stench? Honestly, even though I made great chili, one spill and I would have to sell my car. It would smell like a Mexican whore house for months. Considering that my girlfriend gets car sick when the car’s in neutral (this is not an exaggeration), I had even more incentive to not spill the chili.

I arrived at Union Pool before 5 pm and a line has already formed. The other contestants look serious, and I am  nervous that I am going down. The space smelled of beer from the night before, stale and stank. Every time I arrive at one of these events, I feel I am looked at with suspicion.  I am more of a square peg in the round hole – not  quite young or skinny enough to fit into hipster jeans, nor old enough to be considered a novelty.

whore mel

click to see full size

Thank god my friend Chris arrived early.  Chris was there not only to support me, but also to hand me the really cool sign he made (I think it scored me a few extra votes). He is my personal “President of Marketing” (I need to make the guy dinner). He came up with ‘Whore-Mel” chili, sadly these youngsters didn’t know who Vic Tayback was…

The event started, and it was so crowded that I never had a chance to leave my chili’s side. The sign glowed, the chili was eaten, photos taken… it was truly a whirlwind of activity as endless streams of people armed with tiny plastic cups fought their way to the troughs of chili.

As they finally counted the votes, I was more tired than excited. Matt Timms, the organizer, invited all the chefs on stage – onto this tiny stage I had to fight my way onto…Now I am tense…I am trying to enjoy myself.  Matt announces the judges decision first.  I  get THIRD place. I am crushed. I really wanted the approval of the Judges.  The judge says, “Whore Mel wins Third because it had the best FLAVOR and the best MEAT.  I am sorry, if I had the best flavor and meat, doesn’t that mean I win? So of course, I embarrass myself – I said to the judge under my breath, “Then why didn’t I fucking win.”  I want so many moments of my life back and this is one of them.   BUT THE PEOPLE DID NOT LET ME SUFFER FOR LONG…..

I cannot wait to learn from the master

I cannot wait to learn from the master

Because….The people, the most important vote of all, voted me The CHILI TAKEDOWN CHAMP….Thank you all….I thought I would be happier, but my girlfriend knew right away…I wanted the judges’ approval as much as the people’s.  It is only now do I realize that the people eating your food, those are the people you want to please…

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