Chili Cook-Off

I love chili. Mom made great chili. Some of my best memories were during the Rose Bowl or Super Bowl eating way too much of her chili. While mom can never be replaced, I do hope to one day find a decent chili cooking woman who wouldn’t mind fixing me a bowl once or twice a year. So when I got the invitation for a chili cook off, that at first I thought was spam, I accepted.

A group of close friends were holding this chili cook-off. I know one person in this group. A few months ago she gave my blog address to one of her friends. Her friend who organized the cook-off was kind enough to invite me.

I always get excited about meeting new people, especially in groups. The dynamics of the way people accept a stranger like me into the group always tell a lot about people who make up that group.

The Chili Cook-off took place only blocks from where I spent the first ten years of my life. It is a fun part of the city. Great memories still wait on every corner and wave to me as I drive past. It’s a neighborhood I could easily see myself living in once again, I tell myself often, but have never made any real effort to return – knowing full well you can never go home again.

It was not the small and quaint gathering I thought it might be from the invitation, rather a full blown party of about fifty people, 16 delicious recipes, lights, music, and even event tee-shirts to remember the event.

There were three people I knew there and everyone else was a potential new friend. So the goals of the evening were first, to introduce myself to everyone at the party (this is pretty easy for me as I am not shy) and second, to find out as much as I could about the chili.

The cook off worked like this: You stop by the chili display; have a sample in a small cup, chat with the cook, and move on to the next pot. Between eating and getting to the next chili, you made new friends or caught up with old ones.

At the first booth I was served Funky Chicken Chili. This is where I met Frank the Funky Chili Chicken. He was a disturbing “Big Bird” knock off from a small Asian manufacturer with his yellow fuzz and creepy eyes. With the pulsing strobe light of the dance floor Frank looked more like something that might chase you during a bad acid trip… not that I would know (I do.) He became my wing-man for the night after I found a leaf in my cup.

Each of the following fifteen dishes had a unique taste, display, or name. One of the dishes was a family tradition from eighty years, and was described in a yarn at one point to have even had the same stainless steel pot forged by a great grandfather just for chili giving it certain taste. Another memorable experiment was the Anti-Chili that included cumin, cinnamon, and other exotic tastes I could not describe including chocolate. A cowboy dressed man served my favorite sweet traditional chili out of a pot surrounded by plastic western figures posed for action in a shoot out. Finally there was one person serving a chili that was actually cream of broccoli soup – which was really good, but not chili.
After everyone had their fill of chili, and the ballots were filled out and turned in, the first announcement came from the hostess. Third place was a tie between two chiefs. They needed to figure out a way to determine to choose one third place winner. My deep voice blurted out “dance off!” Everyone laughed hard at this. There were even a few people who shot chili out their nose at the notion. But in seconds the group began and to clap and chant “dance-off, dance-off.” A circle formed in the center, the two chief’s entered the circle and the music began – it was cowboy versus hip hop. The Cowboy had a few good traditional moves then stepped back. Hip hop went in and busted a move old school. Cowboy came back with a little line dancing. Hip hop ripped off his quick release pants and began to go to town on the floor with the worm. Hat in the air Cowboy came back strong. The crowd called out for the robot, and Hip hop made his big mistake of going against the fans will. Instead Hip hop went for the wave again. By applause, Cowboy had won third place.

Deserts were served. After meeting a cute couple of girls from Ann Arbor, a violinist and mortgage broker, I tried the greatest chocolate pie ever made. It turns out the cute violinist had made it. It also turns out that she has two siblings, the Funky Chili Chicken owner who gave me Frank, and the hostess who had invited me. It seemed there was a network here.

After desert I thought that the group was thinning and I planned to head home. Instead it turns out that everyone had just gone inside to escape the night chill. Several of the people at this event, including the home owner, were the children of people I had grown up with when I lived in this neighborhood.

Before it got too late I made one last round to say my good-byes and headed home. They are a good group of people. I was blessed and fortunate to have spent that time with them. While my colon is feeling a little beat up and the apartment is stinky, Frank and I thank you for a wonderful time.