On Friday, I convinced Ellen to ditch the lunch being provided at the conference we were attending in favour of walking over to Scotia Place to meet Mack and take in the 20th Annual Chili Cookoff, organized by the Downtown Business Association.
To the left for chili!
Though Mack has attended before, I’ve never been able to make it. After this experience, I can see why this event is so popular. It’s the closest we have to Calgary’s Sun & Salsa event in Kensington – food sampling that goes to a good cause. In this case, all proceeds would be donated to the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters.
Twenty organizations put their best chili forward to vie for the 2010 title of “ultimate chili”. Competitors included the obvious suspects like hotels and area restaurants to companies such as Hemisphere Engineering, and not-for-profits like the Kidney Foundation and Boyle Street Co-op.
It was a pretty efficient setup – two tables in Scotia Place were devoted to selling chili receptacles for $2 a pop (unfortunately, they were styrofoam, accompanied by plastic spoons) so no money was changing hands at each of the sampling stations. The narrow aisles were somewhat congested, but thankfully, we were able to park ourselves in the “overflow” areas outside the main thoroughfares to consume our samples.
Entertainment was provided on a small stage, which definitely lightened the mood, and matched the festive decor around the foyer.
Loved the little chefs!
I couldn’t imagine having to be a judge (Karlynn Johnston of Kitchen Magpie wrote about her experience) – to have to determine the best of twenty chilis would be challenging, with palates easily overrun by the heat. Thus, it was no surprise that the varieties that distinguished themselves from the common ground beef base were the ones that were memorable, and rewarded for being unique.
Scott Lingley of See Magazine, one of the judges, was nice enough to pose for a photo (covering up his scores though, of course!)
We agreed with the judges’ top three, though not necessarily in that order. The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra placed third with their smoky chili that tasted like baked beans (it also didn’t hurt that their recipe included bacon).
L2 nabbed second place with my favourite – a chicken-based chili, with a strong hint of lime. After several spicy samples, it was refreshing to encounter the citrus twist. They also had the best booth, hands down, with all servers dressed up in Hollywood costumes.
L2 getting their star power on!
As for first? Drumroll please…Hardware Grill took top honours with their amazingly tender stewed beef-based chili. Scott shared that their recipe also featured some “exotic” ingredients, including tamarind and anchovy. Mack also really loved the corn muffin that topped the sample.
Chili from Hardware Grill
Other notable chilis included Zinc’s alpaca version (the ground alpaca was much better and more flavourful than in the meatball format that we tried earlier this week), Hemisphere Engineering’s chocolate chili, made even more complex with a hint of Danish blue cheese (Ellen and I joked about finding her a “dessert chili”, and this was as close as we could get), and the Westin’s vegetarian chili, a bold, meatless choice that didn’t suffer for flavour at all.
The Westin’s vegetarian masterpiece
Our least favourite was, sadly, from one of our favourite shops in our neighbourhood – deVine’s. Ellen described it as bland, then unnecessarily spicy, but worst of all was the texture – we all agreed it was akin to baby food.
I thought I wouldn’t be full – but even between the three of us, we weren’t able to finish 12 small samples, in spite of the fact that consuming a large bowl of chili in one sitting for dinner hasn’t ever been a problem. Perhaps it was the variety?
All in all, it was a fun event – I was happy to have finally been able to see what the Chili Cookoff was all about – here’s to twenty more years!