Chili Cook-offs in California...Tustin,
Wilton and Williams all have them. But so do California cities named
Brawley, Groveland, Kirkwood and Yosemite. Also Sunset Beach, Sutter
Creek and Buena Park. There are so many disagreements about who
first invented chili and what a real chili should consist of. Many
claim it couldn't have come from Mexico and some Texans say that the
full-bodied beef dish (with no beans, at all) is the original REAL
chili recipe. Even if you add beans (con carne) in the poor man's
version, what's clear is the fire still burns for a hot, tasty bowl
of this soup, and there's such fervor that "chili" has its own
society and contests to determine the best chili sauce and recipe.
Not everyone subscribes to and
pays fees to be a member ICS (International Chili Society), the elite group of chili connoisseurs,
but throughout California you'll find chili contests and
competitions that bring communities together, act as fund raisers,
California Chili Cookoffs
Chili Cook-off & Fall Festival. Fall Festival and free Chili
Cook-off contest to win prizes includes the taste and feel of the
Wild West. Admission is FREE and activity cards can be purchased for
$5 (includes unlimited fun zone, 2 crafts and 2 tastes of chili plus
a bowl of house chili) or chili tasting cards can be purchased for
$3 (which gives you 4 tastes of chili from the chili cook-off and a
bowl of house chili). Chili Cook-off tastings start typically before noon. Location: Leo Carrillo Ranch
Historic Park, 6200 Flying L.C. Lane, Carlsbad, CA. Call: (760)
SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO -
Swallows Inn Regional Chili Cook-off. Location: Swallows Inn, 31786
Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, California. Chili,
Chili Verde, and Salsa. Entry $77. Contact:
Cheryl Krupp: (949) 493-3188.
The Tustin Street Fair and
Take to the streets of
Old Town Tustin. This 24th annual event features the Chili Cookoff,
craft booths, non-profit food vendors, entertainment, kids
carnival, music and much more. Time: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. tustinchilicookoff.com
FORTUNA - Chili
Cook-Off is held in conjunction with the Fortuna Rodeo. The
cookoff is held the Monday of rodeo week, and is the launch of
the week-long activities and events.
Vacaville Chili Challenge - held in Town Square. Time: 10 am to
6 pm. For cook-off entry details please call the Bruce at
(707) 404-6441; or (707) 451-2100. chilicookoff.com.
FERNDALE - St. Mark's Harvest Festival and Chili
Cook-Off. This annual event offers family fun, games, cakewalk,
hayride, live music and a candy booth for the kids. Chili judged by
local dignitaries at the beginning of festivities, followed by hot
dogs and chips with a taste of chili for other attendees, free.
5:30-8:30 p.m. St. Mark's, Fern & Berding Streets. Call St. Mark’s
Lutheran Church: (707) 786-9353
Taste, texture, consistency, spice blend, aroma and color and flavor
are the main criteria for competition chili. Competition chili is
designed to win chili
competitions and isn't something you cook for a Saturday football
gathering. It contains more chili spices, more salt and doesn't have secret
ingredients. The meat must be lean beef diced into small
cubes with the winner taking all, based on his or her cache of
Some of the unusual chili
competitions aren't limited to California. Terlingua, Texas (some
say it's the home of chili and the first chili cook-off held there
in 1967) hosts Junior Chili Cookoff which has been held
several years for ages 6 to 18, and was sanctioned by the Chili
Appreciation Society International (CASI). The Kosher Chili Cook-off
also comes from Texas (Dallas). There's a national Mexican Chili
Cook-Off, Chili Palooza in Seattle
I make a mean pot of chili.
It's never the same, never mundane, and to date, I've never shared
my secrets, mostly because I love to hear people rave and revere me
for my talents in cooking.
In California, chili is most
popular in the chilly season--September to May. While Chili
Cook-offs go on all summer long because of the guaranteed sunshine
and minimal chances of rain, Californians find themselves
susceptible to the winter chill, be it a five degree drop in temps,
or 50 in the mountains, Central Valley, desert and north.
Places like Wendy's restaurant
or Wienerschnitzel offer a constant staple of chili served
separately or topping off a dog or burger. Having read the
insider stories from former employees of some restaurants kind of
turned me off to eating this food. Even the hamburger I used to cook
into the meal is now replaced with my own ground meats to avoid the
things that are sometimes infused into these blends.
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Chili with Beans (recipe)
1lb. lean ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon chili powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 15-oz. can chili beans
2 tbsp. Tabasco (Green Jalapeño) sauce.
Cook meat in a large skillet over medium heat until brown, about 5
minutes, stirring to break into smaller pieces. Add onion and garlic
and cook until tender, about 5 minutes, stirring often. Drain excess
fat. Stir in tomato sauce, water, chili powder and salt and mix.
Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes more or until most
of liquid has evaporated. Stir in chili beans and Tabasco and heat
through. Makes 4 servings.
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The chili I like best has some
zip and a bit of fire--not too much, however, because most people
are mid-range in their tastes. The Spanish influence does tend to
heat up the dishes a bit, however. We've seen the chilies and salsas
become increasingly spicy in restaurants around California,
especially in regions heading nearing 50% or higher population
Hispanic. Mexicans, Central and South American Hispanics
especially use a wide range of chilies and they like their dishes
full-bodied, with a bite.
With that in mind, you have to
pay attention to your audience. From my kitchen come these tips: 1) the meat preparation is tops.
Quality meat, perfect texture and flavor are king. I think it
would be incredibly boring to just cook beef and let it soak up the
flavors of the other ingredients in a chili dish. One thing I do in
all my dishes is let the meat exist as a stand-out or stand-alone.
With the right sizzle and spices, you can taste the meat morsels as
little bursts of enjoyment, separate, but integrated into the theme
of the sauce and other textures...onion, peppers, beans, tomatoes.
Unlike the typical chili where it is one big bowl of sameness, the
key is making the textures provide enjoyment in each bite, kind of
like the chocolate chip in the cookie.
Another secret to my recipes
is use of woods for flavor. They can be subtle and really work well.
You have to experiment with which woods work for your chili recipe.
Mesquite is popular as a refined choice, while Central Coast diners
like oak. And just to throw them off, I inject my Kansas City roots
with hickory--it rocks! It is easy to overwhelm the dish with wood
flavors, however. In a contest, you could be downgraded for too much
smoke. But for entertaining, see if you don't hit a home run at
home, barbeques and community festivals.
Another secret is the beans.
Don't overdue it on the beans. Keep them as an enjoyable texture,
not filler. Bean texture is equally important as its flavor.
While all that canned stuff
makes cooking easy, it wouldn't hurt to check out local farmer's
markets, fairs, tomato fests and other places where you can obtain
the freshest ingredients. Some of the finest meals allow the
top foods to shine. Traveling and sampling great meals, we notice
that top products help create memorable experiences. That's what you
discover about chefs. They grow small gardens with spices, use
locally grown, seasonal offerings, and shop, shop, shop for the best
ingredients. If you're really into it, you can have your ingredients
shipped to you, though it will cost more.
And one more tip is to get
creative with the sauces and spices. While I've found that red
curries at less than a pinch can add mystique. I rarely use them,
but do include some unexpected spices to throw in ethnic spins. A
great chili booster is A1 sauce, but there are hundreds of store
shelf sauces that, when blended tastefully, will keep the crowd
Having never used a chili
recipe out of a book, I should go back and take a look. But when
people love my dishes for their unique tastes, textures and
user-friendly blends with less beans and more vegetables, why try to
SUTTER CREEK -
Sutter Creek District Chili Cookoff. Cookoff Categories: Chili
Chili Verde, Salsa. Location: Main Street, Sutter Creek,