Fiery Foods Festival

This is my favorite display from the festival–this was made by North Market Produce, and I thought it was terribly cool. Of course, I wanted to buy some of those pretty red chiles, but there were so many people milling around, it was hard to think of buying anything.

Zak says that he loves me and I should be happy.

Not only did he get up early-early for me yesterday and went to the Fiery Foods Festival at the North Market in Columbus, which is about forty minutes from where we live, and not only did he endure crowds for the sake of giving me support for my first chili contest, I didn’t even have the grace to bring home a prize!

No, folks, Chupacabra Chili did not win, but it was very well liked, and I made a pretty good showing for it being my very first chili cook-off. The folks who did like it a lot, I was fascinated to note, tended to be Asian or Latin American or just people who really liked goat and lamb meat. Many Anglos were reluctant to try the chili because of the goat meat, but a surprising number of people knew what the Chupacabra was, and the cards I passed out to raffle off a t-shirt featuring the Goatsucker in all of his glory went very fast.

I think I went a little -too- easy on the seasonings–one judge said it was “bland,” though it was hardly that. It was subtle–I wanted the meat to stand up and be the central flavor, which it was. But, I was concerned that a lot of folks in Columbus, Ohio, would not appreciate a lot of chile heat, so I tread lightly in that regard and perhaps too lightly. The predominate flavors were the meats, which were rich and dark, with cumin, garlic and onion predominating with the chile heat coming in at the back of the throat more as an aftertaste. Cilantro, stirred in just before tasting, and the tomatillos punctuated the combined melange with jolts of freshness, and the posole added a nice chewy corn deepness when you bit into it. It was quite a rich and heady dish, but maybe not traditional enough for a lot of folks.

The competitors stretch as far as the eye can see.

As you can see, there were twenty competitors, and according to one taster, who assiduously and methodically tasted each entry and made notes, there wasn’t one dog-awful bad chili entered. Interestingly, three of us, including the really nice man who shared the table with me, were all from Pataskala, Ohio–a very quiet formerly farming community that until very recently was steadfastly rural. It is currently becoming suburbanized as the reach of Columbus marches relentlessly eastward, but for now, it is still pretty country-like.

The winning chili, in fact, was made by one of the three Pataskalans. It was a smoked turkey and black bean chili, which unfortunately, I did not get to taste. In fact, by the time I got out from behind my table to go tasting, many of the chilis were already gone, including the other one I really had wanted to taste, the Chili Caliente, which won the People’s Choice award. Interestingly, I marked, without tasting, the two winners, though from what I tasted, most of the entries were quite good.

I know that the creator of “Carnivorous Concoction” who shared my table, had some fine chili–the main flavors were meat and beer with a bit of spice at the end. A nice chili.

Before I ran out of chili, I sent Zak down to give samples to the folks I buy the meat from, David and Cheryl Smith of Bluescreek Farm Meats. They raise meat that tastes like the meats my grandparents raised on their farm–in other words, meat as it is meant to taste. Their pork is a revelation in flavor, sweet, firm and fragrant; their beef, especially the meat that comes from the Belgian Blue cattle, is tender and delicious. I am especially fond of both the lamb and goat, myself–which is why I ended up putting them in a chili recipe–they are deeply flavored and strong, but without any gaminess or harshness to them at all. And of course, they are meltingly tender.

Some of the meat selection at Bluescreek Farm Meats. This meat is from a family farm–all organically raised cattle, sheep, goats and hogs. Look at those pretty cuts of lamb.

After the judging, I passed out cups of chili and cards with the blog address like mad, until I scraped up the last of the chili, then went foraging for tastes of my own. I really think that the contestants should be able to taste each others’ chilis before the judging starts; the folks running the contest were very strict about not letting any tasting happen before the judging. However, I think that in order for the contestants to really get a chance to understand what the judges were looking for, they should be able to taste each others’ chili and get a feel for what the winning and close to winning entries were like.

Besides, you know, we -all- wanted to know what the other ones were making.

Chili is such a personal thing. Everybody has a different taste in mind when they think of chili. Texans have their bowl of red, the uber-chili, the root of the chili family tree, the starting point of it all. Texas red is just chunks of beef simmered in chile peppers, onions, garlic, spices and sometimes tomatoes and often beer. That is it. Nothing else. No beans. Oh, lord, no beans. Beans are cooked separately and served on the side.

And then there is Cincinnatti chili, which I do not consider to be chili at all. I dislike it intensely, though some of my family really love it and crave it. There is standard midwestern ground beef and kidney bean chili–which seemed to be the standard that most of the entries in the contest were based upon. And then there are the white chilis with chicken or pork, there are the green chile-based pork chilis of New Mexico, there are venison chilis, vegetarian chilis and then there are other chile based stews such as pork posole. Beans, no beans, lots of beans, chunks of meat, ground meat, sausages…the varieties are endless.

What made this contest interesting, if difficult, is that there were no categories, so the criteria that the judges have in mind to judge the chili, other than the general terms of “aroma, consistency, flavor and overall” are unknown.

That is part of what makes it fun–trying to figure out what will appeal to the judges–what will make them think, “chili” when they taste it.

At any rate, I had fun, though I didn’t get to do much shopping for spicy goodness. By the time the contest was over upstairs, the downstairs had become a crush of people, so I didn’t get a chance to look at the offerings of the vendors or have a taste of any of the free samples on offer.

As we wended our way through the crowd, I did stop back by Bluescreek to see what they thought of the chili. They liked it and wanted the recipe. I gave them my blog address, and promised to put the recipe up in the next couple of days.

So–for those of you coming here because of the little cards I passed out with your samples of chili–keep coming back! I am writing out the recipe for the chili today and will post the recipe along with the number for the winner of the t-shirt raffle. Until then, find your little card, look at the number written on the back and see if you can use your Jedi mind powers to influence my random number generator.

And once I post the number, if it matches the number on your card, post a comment to the blog with your email address. I will email you, and get your snailmail address to send the shirt along to you. I’ll give a couple of days for the winner to post–maybe by Wednsday or Thursday, and then I may be forced to generate another number, until a winner steps forward and claims the t-shirt designed by my lovely and talented husband, Zak.

Until tomorrow, then!


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  1. Too bad you didn’t win, but a fun time and making contacts are just as important (that’s what I tell myself when I have unproductive public ventures)

    I eat family-farm meats as well, I agree that they are far better than store-bought.

    Sending Smooth-Move thoughts….

    Comment by Judith — February 20, 2005 #

  2. I didn’t expect to win; this is my first chili competition after all. Actually, it is my first culinary competition. When I was in culinary school, a lot of the students liked participating in “culinary olympics” and such events, but I was never interested in it.

    The reason being is that I can be a terribly competetive person, but I don’t like how highly strung that personality quirk makes me. So instead of participating in competitions at school, I was always volunteering to cook for a lot of different events and school functions. It was a very low-key atmosphere, I got to work with a lot of really great chefs and do stuff that was years beyond what we did in class, and I had a great time.

    I went into this chili cook-off with a similar attitude–I was there to have fun and meet folks. And pass out cards to see if I could get folks to read my blog. 😉

    Besides, if I won, would I want to go again next year? Not too likely. Winning on the first try is probably not a good thing for me. I’d rather try and try again! Give myself something to work toward!

    As for the move–thanks for the thoughts–I hope it goes smoothly–so far things aren’t too bad. But there will be moments when the works get so gummed up it will seem impossible.

    But I know that we will make it, it will be good and fine and all will be well.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — February 20, 2005 #

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