In the inaugural running of the Kentucky Derby Festival’s Chili Challenge, my recipe for “El Cid” chili came in a respectable third.
I have to say I didn’t know what to expect when I pulled into the parking lot at the Kroger store in Middletown Wednesday to have the judges scrutinize my chili recipe. I cook a lot but I’ve never entered a contest before.
This was an outside affair, with several presentation tables set up in front of the store. Traffic was blocked so we wouldn’t have to contend with cars, and the Kentucky Beef Council, who sponsored the event, brought along their grilling trailer to add some flair and smoke to the event.
I quickly realized after seeing two of the contestants already set up that I seriously underestimated the criteria regarding “appearance.” I thought we were only talking about the chili itself, but no, these folks had props to set off their spots at the table.
I had the basics, a little tablecloth to put down, a basket to tastefully contain and display all the ingredients used to concoct “El Cid,” printouts of my recipe, and a finished version of my chili in a crock pot ready to serve.
These other folks were putting out things that looked more like table centerpieces for Thanksgiving dinner. We had husks of corn, squash and pumpkins; onions and garlic cloves; and their recipes were laminated or affixed to bulletin boards so they stood up for better viewing.
I was definitely weak on presentation, but I kept it close.
The event was kicked off by a local radio station DJ who served as emcee. He came past each of us so we could introduce ourselves over the public address system, describe our recipes and tell how we came up with them.
Once I heard the other recipes I knew I had a shot because the other finalists were doing things to chili that were mostly unfortunate in my opinion.
The second place chili was using Woodford Reserve Bourbon, which I appreciate, but it seems like a waste of good whiskey and a strange thing to try adding. She also puréed several items that have no business in chili, to mask them from her children. This was a thinner chili, more like soup. It had some heat, but didn’t seem particularly like chili to me.
The first place winner used chocolate and cloves in her version. It was a dark looking substance, had an interesting aroma, sort of Middle Eastern, but after a couple bites the flavor of cloves invaded my nose and wouldn’t go away.
Both of these chili recipes were out of the box ideas, and creativity was a judging criteria, but I wasn’t changing my recipe to attempt fancy. That’s not what chili is about. Both were interesting for a couple bites, but I wouldn’t want to eat a bowl of either.
“El Cid” is meant to stand up to a hard day of tailgating. It’s a very hearty chili that will fortify you on game day or help with recovery the next day after a long night on the town.
It’s fine served all by itself, but I prefer it over pasta, with sharp cheddar cheese and fresh chopped jalapeño peppers. If you like more heat, simply increase the pepper and hot sauce amounts accordingly.
“EL CID” CHILI
2-Tbls Olive Oil; 2-Lbs Ground Beef; 1-Lbs Ground Sirloin; 16-Oz Tomato Sauce; 1-Cup Beef Broth; 1-Tbls Worcestershire Sauce; 1-Tbls Onion Powder; 1-Tbls Garlic; 8-Tbls Chili Powder; 1-Tsp Creole Seasoning; 1/2-Tsp Oregano; 1/2-Tsp Marjoram; 1-Tsp Black Pepper; 1-Tsp White Pepper; 1-Tsp Cayenne; 1-Tbls Smoked Paprika; 1-Tbls Brown Sugar; 1 Bay Leaf; 1 Cinnamon Stick; 3-Tbls Frank’s Hot Sauce; 1 or 2-Tbls Cumin