Skip to main content

Defining 'Chili', a Contest, and a Recipe

Sarah Wood, the editor of Edible Monterey Bay, asked if I could take her place as a judge  for the Chili Cook-off at The Park Lane today. Sure thing. So, I was there with Mike Hale, whose column Grub Hunter appears on Wednesdays in the Monterey County Herald; you can read his blog: here. Someone asked, "So you're here to judge? You must be a food expert!" Well...I'm a food writer. Not sure if that makes me an expert, but I do love to eat.

Mike and I were tasked with tasting - and evaluating - the eight entries. Interestingly enough we came to a consensus fairly easily. We both picked the same one as our first choice. And our second and third choices were the same - just flip-flopped. Done deal. And though we didn't talk about our criteria too much, I suspect that Mike and I were both weighing the offerings in a similiar fashion. I was basing my judgement on flavor, spiciness, texture, consistency, and overall enjoyment.

But it got me thinking: what makes a chili chili? I mean, most chilis are a thick, tomato-based, spiced stew with meat (though not always) and beans. Is that it?! What are the traditional chili spices? Is there such a thing as a canonical chili recipe?

The first chili we tasted was labeled 'Exotic Wild Game Chili.' We mused about the possible meat that was in it. It didn't taste like wild boar, so I guessed venison; another attendee spoke to the cook, who said that it was wildebeast, from a supplier in Wyoming. Yes, wildebeast. As in the antelope-relative in Africa. What?!? I had no idea you could eat them, much less purchase their meat in this country. But I did a quick search and found a supplier in this state, based in Riverside County - Exotic Meat Market. They also sell lion, alligator, alpaca, bear, guinea pig, nutria, peacock, yak, and more. Wow. Mike asked me, do you think that's sustainable? No clue.

We also tried a vegetarian chili where the beans were a tad undercooked for my tastes. Abe's Bomb Chili was on the greasy side, but had nice flavor. I could definitely taste the beer in TuTu's Chili. The Cowboy Chili was a little too much like refried beans, both in color and texture. I haven't a clue what made the Pinoy Chili filipino. Patis?!? And in the Chipotle Chili I got hints of citrus, lemon perhaps, but no chipotle. They were all interesting.

In the end, Mike and I awarded first place to the Texas Turkey Chili. It was deliciously seasoned with lots of flavor and just the right amount of heat. The beans weren't mushy but didn't have too much of a bite. It was, overall, the best chili there.

Still, after that experience, I'm not any closer to figuring out what makes a chili chili. But here's my favorite version...

Camilla's Chili al Diavolo 

1 pound of beef
1 pound of ground buffalo
1 bottle of beer (chose a pale one for this part)
1 bottle of Young’s Double Chocolate Stout (16.9 fl. oz)
2 shots of espresso
2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1 large can of diced tomatoes
1 large can of crushed tomatoes
sea salt
2 fresh poblano chilis
2 fresh Anaheim chilis
2 fresh goldspike chilis
2 cans of black beans
agave syrup, to taste

Thinly slice the onions and crush the garlic. Sauté in olive oil till they start to soften. Add beef, thinly sliced, and braise in pale beer for three hours. Drain off any excess liquid and reserve the beef in a separate bowl. Brown the ground buffalo meat with more onions and garlic. Add the beef back into the pot. Season with cumin, sea salt, paprika, and unsweetened cocoa powder. Add the chocolate stout, espresso, diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, and one can of black beans. Clean, seed, rough chop and add all the fresh chilis. Bring to a boil, then simmer for one hour. Add the other can of black beans and simmer for another 30 minutes. If the chili is too bitter, add some agave syrup to sweeten. Let the flavors develop overnight before serving. Serve hot with mini cornbread muffins.

What's your favorite chili recipe? And what, in your mind, makes a chili chili? Would love to hear your opinion. Post a comment below, or email me at constantmotioncamilla [at] gmail [dot] com.


Popular posts from this blog

Meyer Lemon Custard-Filled Matcha Turtles #BreadBakers

#BreadBakers is a group of bread loving bakers who get together once a month to bake bread with a common ingredient or theme. You can see all our of lovely bread by following our  Pinterest board  right here. Links are also updated after each event on the  Bread Bakers home page .  We take turns hosting each month and choosing the theme/ingredient. This month Stacy of Food Lust People Love  is hosting and she wrote: "Your bread can be large, as in one big animal, or small - animal-shaped rolls. Use your imagination! Points for flavor and shape!" If you are a food blogger and would like to join us, just send an email with your blog URL to Stacy at Here's the animal-shaped bread basket from the #BreadBakers... Beef and Sweet Onion Dim Sum Pandas from Karen's Kitchen Stories Bird Bread Rolls from Ambrosia Easter Bunny Buns from Cook with Renu Ham and Cheese Elephant Rolls from Food Lust People Love Hedgehog Bread from Making Mir

Connecticut Lobster Rolls, Canned Lobster Bisque, and a 2019 Henry Fessy 'Maître Bonhome' Viré-Clessé #Winophiles

This month the French Winophiles group is looking at affordable wines from Burgundy.  Host Cindy of Grape Experiences wrote: "Burgundy, or Bourgogne, is known for its wines of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir... as well as Aligote, Gamay, Sauvignon, César, Pinot Beurot, Sacy, Melon in lesser quantities. Many of the well-known wines are quite expensive, but there are plenty of values to be found." Read her invitation here. And there won't be a Twitter chat for this event, so you will have to dive into the articles themselves to read about our pairings and findings. Here's the line-up... Wendy Klik from A Day in the Life on the Farm enjoys Domaine Chevillon Chezeaux Bourgogne Hautes Cotes de Nuits, 2018 Paired with a Maple Pecan Chicken . Camilla Mann from Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares her love of Connecticut Lobster Rolls, Canned Lobster Bisque, and a 2019 Henry Fessy 'Maître Bonhome' Viré-Clessé. Jeff Burrows of FoodWineClick! explains why we should Look t

Quick Pickled Red Onions and Radishes

If you've been reading my blog for even a short amount of time, you probably know how much I love to pickle things. I was just telling a friend you can pickle - with vinegar - or you can ferment - with salt - for similar delicious effect. The latter has digestive benefits and I love to do that, but when I need that pop of sour flavor quickly, I whip up quick pickles that are ready in as little as a day or two. I've Pickled Blueberries , Pickled Asparagus , Pickled Cranberries , Pickled Pumpkin , and even Pickled Chard Stems ! This I did last night for an upcoming recipe challenge that requires I include radishes. Ummmm...of course I'm pickling them! Ingredients  makes 1 quart jar radishes, trimmed and sliced organic red onions, peeled and thinly sliced (I used a mandolin slicer) 3/4 C vinegar (I used white distilled vinegar) 3/4 C water 3 T organic granulated sugar 1 T salt (I used some grey sea salt) 6 to 8 grinds of black pepper Proce