The Chili Cook Off is put on by the Wichita Wagonmasters. I knew very little about the Wagonmasters before being a judge this year but after the Cook Off, I’m quite impressed by all the volunteer work they do in the community. Truly a great organization that puts on this awesome “foodie” event.
When I arrived I was informed I would be judging in two different categories: “Anything Goes” and “No Beans”. With a judge not showing up that day, I was also thrown in to judge the “ICS Salsa” competition. By the end of the day, I was also one of the tie-breaking judges for the “ICS Green” and “ICS Red” cook offs.
My friends and I have our own little winter Chili Cook Off so this was good exposure on how they are ran and judged. The judging was quite simple. They had all the salsas or chili’s in their containers and marked individually with a number. You would then take a spoon, dip it into the salsa/chili and taste it. You would then throw the spoon away, make notes and move on to the next one. They had chips to eat between each salsa or chili to cleanse your palette. The judging was like a process of elimination. You could re-try any chili’s you wanted to again because the goal of it all was to rank only your Top 3 chili’s or salsas.
Everybody’s comment cards are made available to all the cooks so you had to be polite in all your comments otherwise your name would be out there for them to stalk you, egg your house, slash your tires or put ricin in your chili, Walter White style.
While judging the salsa competition, there were roughly 20 salsas to try. We had about an hour per judging session, give or take 10 minutes. During the salsa judging, I tried each one. I love salsa, hot or spicy, mild or not. I’m indifferent but in my personal preference I like salsa with a kick and not overly runny but at the same time, not too chunky. Through the twenty salsa’s, there was one chili that stood out immediately. There was a nice little mesquite flavoring to it and had a nice bite. Loved it. From there it was all a race for 2nd and 3rd.
During the “Anything Goes” competition, I had just under 40 chili’s to try. I was nervous for my stomach but like Reggie Miller in the playoffs, my stomach would not bow down in fear. It would definitely rise to the occasion. If you love chili, seeing all ~40 chili’s was quite a site to see. In trying them all, it was truly anything goes. There were some really bad ones and some good ones. The bad ones were overcooked or were just too unique that it nearly went against what I would ever call a chili. In the end, I ended up voting for a green chicken chili for first and then two basic red chili’s in 2ndand 3rd.
After the “Anything Goes” judging, I was given about 10 minutes to rest before the next judging round. I tried to give my stomach a pep talk but instead I should have given it pepto. Regardless, three decades of eating food has prepared me for this one day. Next up was the “No Beans” category judging. Fortunately there were only ten chili’s to try and with the small amount to try, it was easy to determine the really good ones from the really bad ones. I will say though in this category, there weren’t any ones that stuck out as horrible. They were all ones I would eat on a Sunday afternoon while watching football. Four stuck out as the best above the rest and I literally had to try each one over and over before deciding which one I liked best.
To end the day, I helped break a tie in the “ICS Green” chili competition and was able to break a first place tie for the “ICS Red” competition. Both chili’s that were in the “ICS Red” tie were excellent. I had to go back and forth, back and forth before I made the final call.
All in all, it was a fantastic day and something I would gladly do again over……and over……and over…… and over. Next year, I may invest in some maternity stretch pants. It might help me feel more comfortable throughout the day. The weather was even great after the judging was over to go walk around in the crowds. There was no sweating of chili taking place for me and it was a much needed break to walk off all the chili I ate.
If you’ve never attended the Wichita Wagonmasters Downtown Chili Cook Off, you should do so next year. It’s $5 to enter and all the money goes towards great causes.