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Hungry Magazine - All Things Tasty
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10.15.07

Five Alarm Food Fest

Bites: News and Miscellany


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Along with apple and pumpkin picking, Oktoberfest and endless weekend festivals, fall brings a variety of events - including a chili cook-off I attended on September 30th at the Medinah Shrine Center in Addison, Illinois. There were seven participants in the Shrine Center’s first ever chili cook-off event. I was lucky enough to be asked to be one of five judges for the event and I must say that it was an event filled with good food, good company and a party atmosphere.

Chili types ran the gamut of traditional chili (medium, hot and turbo ass-kicker) to white chili (one that I had never had before). The participants were as colorful as the ingredients they used, from the Divan Ladies (traditional medium heat Chili and “Hot-tinis” – martinis made of hot peppers soaked for a week in a bottle of vodka) to Bob (T21 chili - named after Truck 21 from his fire fighting days) to Jim (award winning sweet chili and a glass of wine).

The Divan Ladies

The day was great - cool air, happy cooks and the wonderful spicy aroma of a great chili in the making. Cooks tasted each others’ chili, sharing the occasional comment or joke as they all sliced, diced, cooked and simmered away.

Five judges gathered at the judging table around 11:00am, armed with tasting cups, spoons and lemon sorbet to cleanse the palate. Seven steaming mugs were brought to the table as the judges took their seats. Some contained ingredients that I had never seen in chili before - slivered almonds, black olives, chicken and white beans - while others were more traditional, using a variety of peppers, onions, tomatoes and beef. The flavors varied greatly. A few were sweet with tender bits of beef and other meats, relying heavily on peppers for spice. One chili, my particular favorite, was white and creamy with chicken, white beans and tomato cream base.

School bus driver Jim Ridder took the first place prize of $150 with his Award Winning Sweet Chili. His was a thinner chili packed with ingredients (such as green peppers and onions), but nothing was overpowering. While talking with Jim earlier in the day, he mentioned that the taste was sweeter than usual because he was using a different type of tomato than he was used to. Jim started making chili when he and his wife got married, so they could have something warm to eat during the winter. But trying to replicate the taste is impossible. The recipe changes every time he makes it, he says.

Second place went to John Schlitt of the Fox Valley Shrine Club with his White Chili. This chili was thick and creamy, reminiscent of hearty chowder. It was created with unusual ingredients such as chicken, white beans and a tomato cream base. At first taste, I almost questioned if it could be considered a soup, as the taste of cheeses and the creamy white sauce were the most prevalent. But the undertones of flavor were what made this so remarkable - the hint of tomato, the taste of the chicken and the mellow taste of the white beans.

Third place went to Connie Meyer and the Divan ladies and their traditional Sensational chili with the hidden heat - subdued until it silently crept up and you became aware of its intensity. Honorable mention went to the Lemon Sorbet that not only cleansed our palates but cooled them too!

None of the winning chilis are marketed or sold anywhere, but in an attempt to help others find that special taste, I did ask those in attendance what their secret ingredient was. I’m not surprised to tell you that the secret ingredients seem to be just that. So, I’ll have to say that the wine and hot-tinis, along with the occasional brew, were one of those secrets – after all, happy cooks make happy food!

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