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Chili Fest: bigger and better

If I weren’t such a fan of Chinese food, I’d say that the two finest words to put together in the English language are not fried rice, but Chili Fest. An entire block of hours devoted to the love of chili is just such a great idea that I could not help but get in on it last weekend.

Chili Fest is the best idea since the bread bowl. It’s always nice to see what other “chili-ans,” as I call them, bring to the pot when they make that chunky treat. My love of all food prohibits me from declaring a contender at Chili Fest, but I will share with you chili lovers the things I liked most.

First of all, cubing the meat instead of using ground round: inspiring. I’ve never considered cubing as a chili sort of feature. But, it really made a difference for those teams that went that route. It made for a meatier dish with more of that stick-to-your-ribs quality that every good chili should have. Beside, isn’t always a little nicer to feel like you’re eating a steak on a spoon than a hamburger?

Second, cumin should be used in creative moderation. Remember, it is a spice that adds an earthiness to any dish. Adding too much cumin is the same as finding a nice clod of dirt in the garden, worms and all, and tossing it into your chili pot. So respect the spice.

Third, I feel that tomatoes are not played up enough in most chili pots. So much emphasis is placed on the meat, chili peppers, beans and spices. Tomatoes add that right combination of sweetness and subtle tanginess that make chili a unique comfort food. And don’t forget the texture that it adds to a good, chunky chili concoction.

Also, I would like to commend those at the Chili Fest who are not afraid to toy around with wildcards. Those fond of the “traditional” kind of chili may not appreciate some of the ingredients I might mention here but try to keep an open mind. Some of these ingredients can bring out the bouquet of a good pot of chili and enhance the flavor.

For those who think their chili is a little too tart or bitter, try tossing in a few pieces of milk chocolate. The cocoa and sugar melt nicely and help enhance the color and flavor of your chili. Also, to knock the tartness off a good pot, try some of the more fibrous fruits like peaches. Cube a few chunks of a sweet, juicy fruit, and you may find your chili to be tastier and more receptive to the heat elements, such as hot peppers and Tabasco sauce.

All in all, it was a good showing at the Chili Fest this year. The 18 teams that competed should be proud of themselves. It was a solid culinary performance for a good cause. Plus, the fact that the crowd grew more than three-fold from last year suggests that Chili Fest is on the right track to gaining some real clout in the chili-making community.

So a bit of advice for teams looking to compete next year, just when you think you’ve packed enough to feed the masses, remember two things. The crowds are only getting bigger for this event. And I will be there, and I’m pretty tubby, so load up.