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Jan 22, 2009 08:48 AM

Chili Cook-off advice needed

I'm entering a Chili cook-off at work and would like some advice. Although I've never entered it in competition, I have a recipe that people love and I've made maybe 50 times for my family, friends, and lots of pot-luck/party type occasions.

This does not seem to be a "foodie" type contest as it is amongst colleagues, so it will be fun and casual. That said, we have 600 employees, so I suspect there are some good chili cooks. Since there are prizes, I'd like to try and win!

Here's some of the criteria for the contest:
Each entry will be assigned a number card. The card will indicate if your chili is mild, hot or dangerous. We will ask the judges to consider:
a) Color
b) Aroma
c) Consistency
d) Taste
e) Aftertaste

What I make is an extremely spicy recipe that contains lots of habaneros, but can be toned down by reducing them or replacing them with milder chilis. When I make the super-hot version, people who can handle it love it, but a fair number of people cannot handle it.

So, finally - to my questions. Should I tone it down, or stick with the super-hot version? Also, any advice on this in general would be greatly appreciated.

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  1. I have found that in all culinary competitions (both professional and amateur) that I have participated in, watched or judged, there are two rules of thumb to follow for success:

    1. Know your audience/judges. If you were participating in fundraiser for a grade school and your judges were 10 years old, I'd say tone it down. But this is for co-workers, and there are "hot" and "dangerous" categories, so you'll have competition and everyone involved knows to expect some spicy stuff.

    2. Cook what you know how to cook, the way you know how to cook it, and the way you like it. Stated another way, "to thine own self be true." If you "have a recipe that people love and [have] made maybe 50 times," then go with it. It doesn't matter that not everyone will be able to eat it (although it's thoughtful for your to be thinking of everyone). It sounds like there will be LOTS of chili to choose from. Don't disappoint those folks who may have already tasted and loved your chili.

    As for the categories you listed, unless there is a rule book dictating things like viscosity (consistency) or requirements for specific aromatics, then the judging is going to be based on the preference of the taster. So have some fun, and good luck!

    1. Are you allowed to only enter one? If you could enter two batches, maybe you could enter a hot hot one and a toned down one. :) Other than that, I'm not much help in this stuff. :)

      1. with all cooking competitions, bear in mind that the judges will only have about a spoonful of any entry recipe-- they have a bunch of other chili/pie/bbq to sample, after all. make sure that *one bite* of your chili has everything you want it to. don't forget to have fun.

        1. Thanks for the advice everyone. Seems to make sense to stick with what I know as you are saying. It might help me stand out as you've said as well to have a spicy but still flavorful entry. Even though there will be other hot chilis, maybe other people will tone theirs down which will prevent them from standing out as much.

          1. I've cooked in CASA and other hard-core chili competitions as well as other local competitions, and would never consider a habanero based "super-hot" chili even at those levels. I think you'll turn off your office worker friends by being far too hot. Good or great chili is not about "gratuitous heat". It's about layers of flavor - different kinds of dried and fresh chiles; subtle additions like chocolate, masa, peach puree...

            1 Reply
            1. re: KiltedCook

              The competitions I've been to don't allow beans either, if that matters.