“Great Bowls of Fire” Chili Cookoff
Arriving with camera in hand, an aroma of simmering chili and the soothing sound of country music, led me up the walkway to a spectacular venue set on the lawn surrounding the pool at Carmel Valley Ranch.
Flowing through the crowd snapping photos of people tasting, chef’s stirring, bartenders mixing, the “Great Chili Cookoff “was celebrating twenty years of kick-ass chili from the Peninsula’s top chefs and margarita mixologists, with country western music by the Cachagua Playboys as KRML covered the event “live.”
Thirteen professional and eleven amateur chefs vied for the coveted “Golden Ladle” and “People’s Choice” awards being voted on by a sold-out crowd and judged through a blind tasting by local foodie judges.
Chefs proudly shared the key ingredients of their prized chili, listing succulent proteins such as Kobe Beef, braised short ribs, buffalo, organic goat, pork ribs, prime rib, ground turkey, pork shoulder and Andouille sausage from the Pig Wizard in Sand City. Chili peppers ranged from guajillo, ancho, poblano, serrano, chipotle, arbor, adobo, pasilla, habanero and dried New Mexico chili peppers. Some secret ingredients were not disclosed, but with a little coaxing, chefs gave up some special touches such as chocolate, espresso coffee, fire-roasted tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, local organic veggies, Pinot Noir, beer and home-grown spices from Napa.
Lavish tables were overflowing with fresh chili peppers, fruit, cornbread and flowers, as the margarita tastings gave the entire party a kick. Home-made honey and lavender-infused Cointreau were the notable ingredients as bartenders from Quail Lodge, Santa Lucia Preserve, Los Laureles Lodge, Wills Fargo Saloon and Carmel Valley Ranch passed out fresh drinks for judging.
Both the “Golden Ladle” and the “People’s Choice” Awards for professional chili was awarded to Chef Tim Wood & team for their “American Style Snake River Kobe Beef Chili.” Chef Jeff Langan took the award for the amateur chef with his “Checkered Flag Chili,” made with braised short ribs.
Winner of the best margarita went to Will’s Fargo located in the Village in Carmel Valley, while Dave Eriksen & team from Carmel Valley Ranch for “Jackson’s Lavender Cadillac Rancharita” with fragrant ingredients such as fresh lavender, honey extracted from beehives on property, and sea salt harvested at Carmel Valley Ranch, snagged 2nd place.
It was an event to remember which motivated a quick trip to Whole Foods Market the next day. With my cart full of short ribs, chuck roast, five types of chili peppers, dried red beans, beer, ground coffee and heirloom tomatoes, I envisioned re-creating the flavors of the winning chilis. After 6 hours of soaking the red beans, 90 minutes to cook same, 6 hours to braise short ribs, then 12 hours of a slow simmer in my crockpot, my own prize-winning chili emerged. Finally.