Red, green or white. Scorching or savory. Made with a big ol’ pile of meat, or made vegetarian — or even vegan. Any way you cook it, chili is the ultimate cold-weather comfort food.
Most people think of traditional chili as tomato-based, with beef, beans, spices and, of course, chiles. But regional recipes add or subtract ingredients (Texas chili leaves out the beans), leaving the definition of chili as simply a spicy, simmering stew that brings the heat.
Nowhere is the creativity of chili chefs more on display than at fiercely competitive chili cook-offs At the Great American Chili Cook-off at Seville Quarter last week, 16 teams chopped and simmered for hundreds of guests in an event benefitting the Seville Sertoma Club.
And no two pots were the same.
For the Grand Reserve Stogie Boys, it’s the meat. The team cooked up six different cuts, including sausage, beef and venison for a hearty chili based on a recipe handed down to chief cook Shannon Janssen by his grandmother.
“I worked on it three or four years before trying to compete,” Janssen said. “I modernized it a little by adding chipotle and beer, but I didn’t change it by much.”
It gets minor adjustments every year, he said, but if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. The team was competing in its third year and had won the judge’s blind taste test its first two years.
The Bobe Street Hustlers, who play kickball when they’re not stirring the chili pot, went with a traditional red chili and atypical toppings — including an avocado relish — in their bid to be chili champs. This was the team’s fifth year in the competition, and in previous years they have won a first place prize and a people’s choice award.
“We never use the same recipe,” said James Odom. “But it’s always feel-good chili. This year we added bacon.”
Achieving balance is key to a successful chili, said first-time competitor Todd Murphy, cooking with Murphy’s Boot Camp Chili.
Murphy, known as “Chef-Boy-Are-T” to his friends because of his cooking skills, said he got his recipe right on the first time.
“The trick is having it equal — not too hot and not too sweet,” he said of his traditional chili recipe. He didn’t want to try any tricks the first time out, and just went with “regular, plain chili — with beer.”
Sometimes it’s not what’s in the pot, but the party that surrounds it.
“We’re cooking Bangin’ Hot Chili,” said Priscus Queen Susie Bruno, who was cooking with the Krewe of Seville. Their recipe was traditional, but with chorus-line kicks of extra heat.
The Krewe has competed — and won — too many times to count, said Bruno. “We mix it up every year.”
What is the secret to the extra heat? Neither Bruno nor her co-conspirator Princess Deanna Cook would reveal any specific culinary clues, but Cook did say the secret to cooking champion chili is all in the attitude.
“It’s because we are so rock-and-roll,” she said. “We add our personality to the pot.”
The Cook-off was coordinated by Gwen Corley representing the Pensacola-Sertoma Club and Buck Mitchell from Seville Quarter.
Winners in the Judges’s Category were:
1st place – Krewe du Grand Facile- Jason Wheeler – Captain
2nd place – Krewe of Seville – Pete & Sue Bruno – Captain
3rd place – ActiGraph – Judge Maygarden- Captain
In the Showmanship Category (decoration, theme and spirit) the winners were:
1st place – Krewe of Sirens – Kim Lambert – Captain
2nd place – Krewe of Grand Facile – Gene Stieffel – Captain
3rd place – Krewe of Seville – Pete & Sue Bruno – Captain
And in the coveted People’s Choice Competition:
1st place – Krewe of Seville – Pete & Sue Bruno – Captain
2nd place – Murphy’s Boot Camp – Todd Murphy – Captain
3rd place – Jay’s Bistro – Jay Ammons – Captain
Next event: Saturday, March 19, 2011 – Gumbo Ya Ya to benefit the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Northwest Florida. For more information phone Buck Mitchell at 434-6211 or go to www.sevillequarter.com for more information.