Urban Llama Makes Derby Chili Challenge Finals

Spices and accoutrements to heat up the flavor in my “El Cid” chili.

The Urban Llama was pleased to learn that my submission to the Kentucky Derby Festival’s Chili Challenge advanced through the opening round and earned a trip to the finals. This is the first year of the contest, which is sponsored by the Kentucky Beef Council.

Five of us made the finals, three from the general public and two from the Kentuckiana media. I’m doing all the prep-work tonight, and tomorrow we present a cooked version of our submitted recipes to a panel of four judges at the Kroger store in Middletown.

The program begins at 9:30 a.m. and goes for an hour or so. We must each describe our recipes and enlighten the judges on how we came up with them, provide any back story on the names of the recipes, and represent why each is a winning entry.

I call mine “El Cid,” which translates to Lord and Master, and has a medium heat rating. I started this recipe in Kentucky. It then took on a heartier tone after I transferred to the University of Iowa during college. I would assemble this for football weekends because it made enough to last through the college games Saturday and into the NFL ones Sunday. It was tasty the first day, but even better after steeping overnight.

Then I relocated to Washington, DC and the recipe became more nuanced. I began using ground sirloin, cinnamon, and added chorizo sausage, which I could get fresh from Canale’s Delicatessen in Eastern Market. That brought a whole new flavor to “El Cid” and spiced it up a notch.

More recently I lived in New Orleans, which is spice central. They have an appreciation in the Big Easy for building subtle heat within a dish, so I created my own Creole spice combination that offers both smoke and heat. I also have become a convert to Frank’s RedHot cayenne pepper sauce, over using Louisiana or Tabasco.

The name “El Cid” is more mythical. Chili is the kind of dish that should have presence and personality. I make mine dense, kind of a combination between the dark gravelly Texas style and the Cincinnati version that has tomato and cinnamon as ingredients.

On the weekends in college and into my 30’s in Washington, we would hit the nightlife hard, so come Saturday and Sunday mornings we needed a stout meal to get us through. Plus there would be those wounded warriors that would come straggling in after waking up on some strangers’ couch or bed – seeking sustenance. “El Cid” was a source of energy and recovery for us.

It continues to evolve and only gets better. Now we’ll see if that kind of character comes through for the judges.

The panel consists of representatives from the Kentucky Derby Festival and Kroger, one culinary expert, and a local beef farmer. Taste, appearance and creativity are the criteria the judges will be looking for in each finalist’s chili.

The prizes for winning are pretty sweet, but I’m not going to get into that. We don’t want to jinx anything.

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