21st Annual “Great Bowls of Fire” Chili Cookoff

I was in a chili state of mind all day. The memory of last year’s chili cookoff exuded tender sighs of delight as I approached this venue held in the beautiful rolling hills of The River Ranch at Carmel Valley Ranch.coastal/chilis

It was just turning dusk. The parking areas were full. The crowds were as I remembered from last year. Mark Banks filled the air with his jazzy sounds. And the chili didn’t disappoint.coastal/chili

There were some familiar faces such as Tim Wood & Jeff Langan, last year’s Professional and Amateur chili winners. They stayed with their winning recipes of Kobe Beef and Short Ribs. Those signature tastes still held up this year, quickly becoming some of my favorites once again.

While chefs carefully guarded their ingredients, most were proud to disclose their farm to table herbs, sea salt harvested on property, their splashes of wine or beer and roasted chili peppers. The tastings were offered in tiny cups but were filled with luscious chunks of prime protein, topped with a choice of sour cream, chopped onion, cheese or snipped chives.coastal/tastings

Some of the standouts in taste and texture were Santa Lucia Preserve’s chili with pork butt, bacon fat, fourteen roasted chili peppers and topped with fresh uncooked corn kernels. The other memorable flavors were found in the tastings at Carmel Valley Roasting . Their “Tiki Hut Chili” boasted a sweet and spicy element spiked with Ginger Cane Sugar, Agave Syrup, Blanco and Red Posada and Orange Bitters. It was one of my favorite tastes.

Sharing the spotlight with the chili were the Margarita Flights made with El Jefe Tequila. Names such as “Orange Cinnamon, The Ruffled Quail and El Beso,” were being mixed and shaken by expert mixologists, all vying to be voted “The Best Margarita.” Santa Lucia Preserve offered a large glass mug in the shape of a boot if they got your vote, quickly becoming a crowd favorite.

The five-minute announcement was made at 7:10 that judging was closing at 7:15. Guests were rushing around trying to finish their tastings and drop their votes for favorite pro and amateur chili and favorite margarita before the voting boxes were pulled.coastal/Quail Lodge

This year’s People’s Choice Professional Chili award went to Santa Lucia Preserve. It was the fresh corn toppings that everyone remembered. Tim Wood of Carmel Valley Ranch came in second with his American Style Snake River Kobe Beef Chili, while Los Laureles Lodge placed third.

The Amateur People’s Choice awards went to first place winner Matthew Fritsch, second to Monterey County Weekly, while Newman Coaching snagged third.Coastal/guest

The guests voted CVAC & Refuge’s “The After Workout” margarita as it’s favorite, with Carmel Valley Ranch’s “Sanchos Harvest Margarita” and Santa Lucia Preserve’s “El Beso” capturing 2nd and 3rd spots.

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The Pig Wizard

The foodie judges voted and gave the Golden Ladle awards to Carmel Valley Cooking & Catering for professional, while Carmel Valley Roasting was honored for amateur.

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Mazda Raceway

Great Bowls of Fire Chili Cookoff is a great experience, surrounded by happy faces and mouths full of spicy chili being washed down with the areas best margaritas.

In a town famous for it’s fine chefs, organic produce, and wonderful wineries, the chili offered for judging couldn’t help but be excellent and seasoned with soul. It’s a great way to experience flavors that would never come out of our kitchens.coastal/chili kids