The Great Chili Cook-Off

Boy Scout Buddy had been chatting about a big Chili Cook-Off for several weeks now.  He posted signage in the bathrooms and on his car.  He is a regular participant and has won some honorable mentions over the years for his East Coaster version of great chili.  The contest is combined with a flea market and Classic Car show and boasts a crowd of roughly 1500 people. Once it gets closer to the day, all they will do is prepare for it.  In fact, several people from Secret Spot Park compete for the honors of best Chili.  They are looking for more people to enter the contest.  He says Ranger Sam might have extra pots and cookers I can use.

I am intrigued.  I like to cook.  Hmm, what about a white chili?

“White chili?  Now that would be diffahrant”.  He says.  “Is it any good?”

“Any good?!”

And so PR’s Amazing Experimental Toy Hauler Kitchen gears up.  I cook up batch after batch of versions of my favorite chili’s…..running around the campgrounds giving tastes and getting feedback.

After several days of trial and taste, I’m confident I’ve got a winner, and go sign up.  Then I find out that, oh, by the way, participants have to serve at least 5 gallons of chili.  If you want to ensure votes, you’d better have at least 6 gallons. In the days that follow, friendly banter between contestants in the park grows.  Rumor has it that my white chili is an unusual hit and could even win.  The anticipation is growing.  Ranger Sam II is getting the equipment ready for me to use.

One thing that never occurred to me was how to prepare ingredients for 6 gallons of chili with virtually no counter space.  The rules stated that the chili must be cooked at the event on that morning, but ingredients could be sliced, diced, chopped, or whatever else needed to happen in advance.   I am the only “solo contestant”.  Several of my camping neighbors have offered to help.  When the necessary groceries for the chili wouldn’t fit in the Toy Hauler fridge, I knew I was in trouble and needed help!

There I am, up to my ears in onions, garlic and chicken.  Lyn and Ted to the rescue! Not only did they let me keep food at their place, but they stepped up to the plate and became my assistants in the entire preparation process.  Friday night we are huddled into my place, chopping onions, garlic and chicken for hours until we just can’t do any more.  No worries, we can finish in the morning, let’s get some rest. 

Six ‘o’clock Saturday morning came way too early, but they are right there to help me get everything else prepared.  At 8:00 a.m. I get a call from Lois “where are you?”  At 8:30 a visit from a park ranger, “How’s it going?  When are you going to get there?”  The good thing about making white chili is that it doesn’t have to cook for hours and hours.  By about 9:15 Lyn and Ted help me get everything over to the big pavilion at Simmons Park where the Chili Cook-Off is being held.  A cold front came in, and the wind is picking up. Everyone else is already there. They have been cooking for hours.  Wow.  It’s butt cold and windy.  The only redeeming factor is that great 60’s classic rock music is blasting from the DJ booth. We begin set-up to get cooking, while shaking our booties and dancing to stay warm. Ted is on point to sauté the onions and garlic while Lyn is opening cans of beans and chili’s with lightning speed, saving the liquids into a container for later use.  We’re having a blast, dancing, laughing, and cooking away,  and I’m quite sure the competition thinks I don’t have a chance to be ready by 11:30.  Many are curious; they want to know what I’m doing with the heavy cream.

Oh, ye of little faith….

Our biggest task is to keep the burner going with all the wind.  We seem to be on the corner getting the bulk of the gusts.  A couple tables set up sideways helps divert the wind.  By 9:35 it’s time to add the chicken.  Ted has it under control.  Lyn is decorating the table with odds and ends she pulled from their camper.  I’m talking with various folks that are gathering information about everyone’s chili.  My ingredients need to be posted on the wall.

By 10:30 all ingredients have been dumped in, and my 6 gallons of creativity smell pretty darn good.  The only problem is I’m not seeing the thickness I usually have with my white chili.  Yikes, I am in a flour crisis!  Ted runs to get more flour.  In the meantime, Lyn and I are sampling the other chili’s and talking to the other “chefs”.  There is some stiff competition, and one guy actually brought in a covered wagon as part of their display.  They also lost half their meat a couple hours ago when a whole pot tipped over onto the ground.   I am the only one making white chili.  Now the goal is to not let it over cook.

With more flour added, and finally stirred smooth, the chili thickens up at just about 11:30, like clockwork.  When the judge’s tray of small bowls arrives, I proudly pour my Hot Chick Chili into each one with Lyn and Ted at my side.  Minutes later, the floodgates are opened and onslaughts of hungry chili lovers arrive to the Pavilion, eager to sample a dozen kinds of chili.  Lyn and I are manning the taste effort to a seemingly endless stream of cold hungry people. 

“What’s that?  Really? That’s chili?”

“What’s in that?” 

“OOOh that is really good!”

“You have my vote!”

“I’ve never seen white chili.”

“This is hands down the best one, you know.”

“What’s EVOO?”

“Can I have more?”

Lyn and Ted are periodically checking comments from the other contestants.  The folks next to me are professional cooks and they win “People’s Choice” every year.  They serve up about 10 gallons of chili.  Apparently the huge line at their station is due to their local notoriety.  I’m ok with that.  My goal is to win over the Judges Choice and go for the cash prize! But it sounds like the competition remains stiff with several other stations delivering some truly outstanding chili.

After an hour and a half of serving up two ounce portions of Hot Chick Chili, the pot goes dry.  Luckily, everyone else’s did at about the same time.  As fast as the crowds appeared, they vanished.  Just in time for the clouds to become thick and full of drizzle. The chili cookers started tearing down their stations hoping to beat the oncoming rain. We got things put away fairly quick, then huddled together and waited for the results under the pavilion. 

Announcements are first made for the Classic Car winners.  That seems to take forever.  It’s hard to hear, and hard to stay warm.  Next, Park Ranger Jason who heads up the chili competition steps up to announce the winners.  The commercial cooks win People’s Choice as always.  Everyone looks around to spot the cooks and congratulate them as they walk up. More congrats as the covered wagon team gets the award for best dressed. Buddy’s chili is called out as a runner up.  We hoot and holler for Buddy as he steps up to claim his trophy.  It’s down to the wire.  Darn Good Chili wins 2nd place, more cheers and clapping.  And then, Park Range Jason announced Hot Chick Chili won first place Judges Choice.  More clapping and cheering. 

Wait, what did he say?  Lyn is pushing me forward, “you go girl, go git that trophy, hon!” It hasn’t really registered.  He said Number 5 Hot Chick Chili is first place. Oh, I am Number 5!  OMG, OMG!  I go nuts with glee and dance on up to Ranger Jason and bear hug that man and jump up and down in the drizzle and wind.  The DJ says “now that’s what I call enthusiasm!” 

Lyn, Ted, Buddy and I go back to camp, Simmons Park Chili Cook’Off victors of the day.

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