Note: Sorry for the delay in posting the second part to this piece. If you want to read/re-read part one, click here.
It all comes back to the chili. Forget about the beer, the fantastic made to order weather and the live music. Thats why were here right?
With the booth judging out of the way it was now time for real deal. Chili was being lovingly prepared for two competitions. The first was the People Choice Chili. The champion of this category would be voted on by everyone at the event. Pay your entry fee, get a bowl and spoon, eat great chili and vote for your favorite. Its as simple as that. And, vote people did. Im not certain of the exact amount of ballots cast, but, judging by the bag of slips that were turned in it was going to take quite a while to count them.
Heres are the winners People Choice competition:
1st: Spice Girls
2nd: Morton’s Firehouse Chili
3rd: Rajun Cajun Buffalo Chili Shack
4th: OSHA Violation/Willis A. Smith Construction, Inc.
5th: C & M Championship Chili
The second category was the Best Texas Red competition. This was the one that my expert palate would be needed for. The winner of this contest would receive a nice cash prize and an automatic entry into the International Chili Society (ICS) World Chili Cook Off.
Sergei, our head judge and de facto chili tasting commander was about to detail the rules for the REAL event, Best Texas Red Chili. Rule number 1, No bribery. Damn, I was just getting used to the good life! Rule number 2, no beans, pasta or other fillers. We were judging meat and sauce.
This process was methodical, anonymous and highly specific. It could not have been more serious. It was the polar opposite of the booth judging. Here’s how it goes (hope I’m not telling tales out of school).
Each entrant turns in a one quart Styrofoam cup that has a number written on the bottom. The cups are split up onto two tables with no judge being able to taste more than 25 chilies. The cups are then assigned a judging number, 1 through 25 for one table and 26 through the balance for the other. That number is written on the front of the cup. Judges are assigned to either table A or table B.
I wasn’t sure how many other judges there would be for the event. As it turned out, there were quite a few. I was about to find out why. Having more judges produces a more consistent outcome. It weeds out somebody who just likes sweet chili or someone else who can’t stand a chili unless it’s flaming hot. The wisdom of the moderate masses.
For the actual evaluation of the chili the process was pretty straightforward. Every judge gets a sheet with numbers that correspond to the chili cups on their table. There is a place to make notes for each of the chilies. Actually, we were encouraged to make notes not just for ourselves, but, for the contestants too. There would be an after tasting debrief for the cooks. They could see how we felt about their entry in detail.
Each table has is a big bowl of plastic spoons in the middle. There is also a nice variety of palate cleansers. Chips, tortillas, sour cream and the like. Oh, yeah, don’t forget about the beer! We were to take a clean spoon, examine the chili in the cup (dont pick it up!), stir it, smell it and then give it a taste. Then, discard the dirty spoon, grab another clean one from the pile and repeat with the next chili cup. We were encouraged to go around the table as many times as necessary to select our favorite three from the table in order of preference.
After we turned in our score sheets we waited for the official score to be revealed. The top five chilies from each group would make the final table. Here’s something I didn’t know (not that I had any prior experience at this kind of thing). Not only were some of the chilies weeded out after the first round, but, so were some of the judges! Only a few of us would get to judge the final group. It was a waiting game for cooks and judges alike.
When the final table was revealed the best chilies from both groups had made the cut and happily so had I! On to the final round.
This time things were much tougher. The first round had some pretty obvious winners and losers. The chilies that made it to the next level were all pretty tasty. I made my rounds of the final table with Sergeis instructions playing over in my head, meat and sauce, meat and sauce . It actually took a few days to get those words out of there. It was kind of weird when I was eating a bowl cereal the next morning, meat and sauce, meat and sauce .
Anyway, I circle the table several times, sampling along the way. I made my notes and marked my three top choices. Once my scoring sheet was turned in it was out of my hands. The sheets would be reviewed, scores tallied and a winner proclaimed.
Heres how the Best Texas Red battle turned out:
1st: Gene Morelli Chili
2nd: Tigersbite – Ray Frederick
3rd: McAfee Antivirus Chili – Tim McAfee
4th: Half-Fast Chili – David Sinclair
5th: Rodney Jones Chili
Congratulations to all of the days winners! There were some amazing chilies cooked at the fairgrounds that afternoon. Im hoping our Sarasota winner represents us well at the World Chili Cook Off.
Also congratulations to Elise Lipoff and the folks at Beks Entertainment Group for putting together a fantastic event. Cant wait until next year!