Chillin’ with chili on a chilly day

Cook till you drop, eat till you pop.
Cook till you drop, eat till you pop.
Despite my finest intentions to whip up southeast Asian dishes from Christina Sunae’s cookbook last week, my participation in the Buenos Aires Chili Cookoff to “cook” or “judge” was going to be the latter option all the way. Clearly.

This annual event, now in its third year, isn’t just an expat event attracting Texans in broad-rimmed hats. Although it obviously attracts all the Texans in broad-rimmed hats that can be found presently in and around Buenos Aires.

As reported (On Sunday, June 2, 2013), 24 cooks – both Argentines and foreigners – brought their finest chili to the table last Sunday, competing to take home the glorious Cookoff champion title, while raising funds for a children’s charity.

While they spent three days prepping minced meat, steak, lamb or whatever their offering was, as well as soaking 10 kinds of beans before throwing their top secret mix of herbs and spices into the vat, the judging panel was busy stocking up on all the antacids they could get their hands on. Check in your local pharmacy. Trust me, we stockpiled the lot of them.

And so with 10 litres of chili and a full pack of Tums, the cooks and the judges respectively wound their way to Recoleta’s Pagano. Usually the scene of general discotheque shenanigans, there wasn’t a beery Saturday night odour to be had come midday Sunday, thank God.

We judges were kept penned in at the front door. I had no idea this was going to be quite so strict, but it proved to be a good thing in the long run as we voted anonymously. Across the dance floor I waved at competing cook friends Anish, Malene, Tom and Patricia, Alan… but that was where contact ended.

Once again, I have to define these matters by nationality. And chili, for me, is simply another foodstuff, albeit a fun and hot one. But once I’d put the word out there on Twitter, a North American chap located in Chile got wind of what was going on. Within 48 hours, Missouri-ite Patrick Hieger threatened to fly in and join the cooking ranks.

Possibly defeated by the need for a hotplate and preparing 10 litres of meaty goodness in a hotel room, he instead settled for the more sensible dream of judging. The cook and pop-up Santiago-based restaurateur had been so emoted by what was going on across the Andes, he literally bypassed mountains to get here. And that’s the effect that chili can have.

And so we gathered then separated, two panels of judges huddled up on balconies that had probably seen far saucier activities than me dripping chili onto my scoresheet the previous night. With 90 minutes and 24 tupperware dishes to taste test our way through, organizer Daniel Karlin issued us all with his own personal spoons and pens, then the games began.

It was an efficient machine, and although the ladies weren’t modelesque types in skimpy clothes, they were certainly friendly and chirpy and kept the chilis, all numbered in a bid to maintain anonymity, rolling out smoothly. Taste, taste, note, on to the next.

We worked extremely hard to determine the overall favourite. We checked the rules, and tried to expel Daniel Karlin for talking about the chilis. (The first rule of chili cookoff judging is “do not talk about the chilis.”) My pen ran out of ink so Ian Mount lent me one of his two. We drank an awful lot of Cookoff-supplied mineral water. We all raised our eyebrows at the two chicken chilis, although we definitely didn’t discuss them. I tried to trip up fellow judge Adrian Bono into disclosing details aloud, but he managed to foil me.

Then tick tock, it was over and the punters started to flood in, and from my bird’s eye view I am confident that Mychael Henry, chef of Poke pop-up restaurant, was first in. And they kept on coming, all the way until 5pm.

Every last little pot of chili served at this charity fundraiser will end up benefitting SACS children’s charity, although the final sum raised wasn’t available at press time.

And two of the three winners were announced that same day. In the left hand corner, the cooks’ choice, Mikey Koo, who donated his cash prize straight back to SACS. In the right-hand corner, the judges’ choice, number nine Evangelina Fuentes, an Argentine making her chili debut – and won. Imagine the damage she could do if she opened a legit chili parlour… In the next few days, the people’s choice will be announced, and I will of course be informing Patrick Hieger via Twitter.

Buenos Aires Herald
June 23, 2013

Ph: Pick Up The Fork

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