Posts Tagged 'chili'

Chill Out, It’s only chili….fest!

Fun to the Max

Oy Vey

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:


I told you: cute!

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.

Need Air

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.

Please, Empty

Chili Paste – You’ve Got to Make Your Own…

I feel strongly about this, because I learned the lesson myself. I never did much research into chili paste before, and was shocked at how easy it is to make. And really folks, you can use it for other stuff rather than chili. Think of it as ingredient to have on hand in the pantry(in the refrigerator or freezer). It can be added to sauces, soups, dips, your bath tub…it will add a rich / bitter element to anything. You do not have to make it exactly as I do, feel free to change the spice profile. Take it in a direction that will suit your pallet…

I wish I had a photo, but that will come as I learn how to blog…

Simply put:

  1. Rehydrate a variety of dried chili peppers (ancho, pasella negro, etc)  in boiling water for at least 30 min up to 4 hours
  2. Put some peeled garlic in a small bowl and cover with boiling water
  3. Remove the stems and seeds from the peppers and place in a blender with the garlic.
  4. Reserve the pepper liquid to make the paste
  5. Add spices to the blender, cumin, cinnamon, vanilla, ginger, Mexican oregano, etc
  6. Add a little pepper liquid to get the blender moving, and puree.
  7. Keep adding liquid and blend until you get the desired consistency

That is it. The next time I make it I will update this post and make it somewhat more relevant and interesting…

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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