By OB Rag Staffer
It’s that time of year again when things really heat up in OB. It’s the Annual Chili Cookoff. It was another perfect day, the kind of day we take for granted in OB. But the heat wasn’t in the air. It was inside the bubbling kettles heating up over propane flames.
Not many foods can give you the same rush as a bowl of hot chili. The sting of the heat and the pleasure of the savory taste combine for a sensory explosion with every bite. You take a big spoonful of chili, your mouth starts to burn with quick heat, your head sweats and your eyes water, then the afterburner kicks in with the delayed creeper heat, you grab for a gulp of something cold, catch your breath, then you do it all over again. Deadly good stuff.
The Chili Cookoff took place at the lawn on Abbott Street just south of the Lifeguard Tower. There were about 25 booths set up around the perimeter of the lawn. The booth designs ran from plain to fancy and everything in between. Walking around as the chili cooked, the aromas were incredible. I spoke with some of the teams before the tasting started at 11:00. As soon as the tasting started, long lines started to form and the crowds moved in. At some point, it was hard to tell which line I was in, but it didn’t matter, it was all good.
The chili that I tasted was all very good, not a dud in the bunch. There were a variety of flavors and textures and styles. A few teams had both vegetarian and meat versions of their chili. (Being a carnivore, I chose the meat.) One thing that surprised me was that none of the samples I tasted were excessively hot. All had a nice, pleasant “zing” to them. They ranged from mild to what I would call medium heat, but none sent me frantically grabbing for water.
By around 1:00 some of the teams were starting to run out of chili and the crowd began to thin out. About that time my tastebuds were starting to cry Uncle, so I gave them a break. I couldn’t get into the Beer Garden with my backpack, so I went for a large lemonade at the foot of Newport and walked out the pier. The winners were announced at 4:00 at the pier stage. By then I was getting tired and sunburned and craving a beer, so I walked back home. It was one of the most enjoyable days I’ve had in a long time.
Competition Chili is different from the ordinary Chili con Carne with Beans that you might cook up for dinner. To be strict, competition chili would consist of a smooth sauce with cubes of meat and no beans. There is even an organization called the International Chili Society (or ICS) that promotes chili and chili competitions, and sets the judging standards. But this is OB, and we’ve never been known for following somebody else’s rules. It’s chili, have fun with it. The ICS website is located at http://www.chilicookoff.com/
Representatives from the Health Department were on site to make sure the chili was kept hot enough and prepared under healthy conditions.
I spoke to several of the teams and sampled their creations. My apologies to the teams that I didn’t get to visit. Here’s what I learned:
Booth 3R, Lahaina Beach House:
I spoke with Saul and Steve. They described their chili as traditional, simple and “Spicy enough that you keep on craving it”. They have been using this recipe for 12 years after they developed it over 20 years in the restaurant business.
Booth 6, Wesley Slack:
Wes told me that his chili is a fusion of Texas and San Diego. He uses hickory smoked meats, barbecue sauce, zucchini, eggplant and vegetables.
I sampled Wes’ chili. It had a distinct barbecue flavor that was unusual for chili, but very good. It had a lot of tender meat and a delayed heat.
Booth 10, Thunder Carrot:
I spoke with Freddy. They use some ingredients that are unusual for chili, like cocoa, vanilla and cherry. This was a first-time recipe for them, and it turned out great.
When I tasted the chili, it reminded me of mole (the Mexican sauce, which I love). It was sweet and savory, thick, chunky and had beans. The heat was moderate.
Booth 11, Awesome Chili:
Kelly told me that she used a family recipe, and she wouldn’t say any more. The chili was made with a combination of spices and a lot of love. She has been making it for 2 years.
Booth 12, Country Girl Chili:
Lindsey described her chili as mild, not too spicy, with three beans and beef. They took an old family recipe for tacos, and converted it to chili. They are an all-girl team from El Cajon, hence Country Girl.
Booth 13, Hang Ten Chili:
These folks definitely had the coolest booth design, an old-fashion surf woodie complete with surfboards. Mike and Erin told me that Karl Strauss Woodie Gold goes into the chili. The recipe came from Erin’s head.
I sampled the chili, it was slightly sweet, almost fruity tasting. It had a medium delayed heat.
Booth 14, Sauce Goddess:
Jan told me that she uses tangy steak sauce in her chili, and organic vegetables fresh from the garden. She made up her own recipe and has been making it for eight years.
Booth 15, Hettiwanda:
This was definitely the party booth. These folks seemed to be having the most fun of anybody there. Steve, the team’s “Chili Master” told me that they use five kinds of chili peppers, two kinds of meat, and stir it with a birch paddle. It was made fresh onsite. The booth was made with 100% recycled materials.
I tasted their chili. It chili had a very tangy taste, a good overall flavor and texture, with beans. It had a medium delayed heat.
Booth 16, Wacky Shack
Dan told me he makes both meat and vegetarian options. He uses pureed vegetables, beef and sausage. He has been making this chili for two years from a recipe that evolved from a former roommate’s recipe.
When I tasted the chili, it had a strong flavor of red chili peppers. It had a smooth sauce with chunks of meat, like a competition chili.
Booth 17, Allied Gardens Surf Club
Brock and Katie told me they make their chili with smoked pork and tri tip. Their chili recipe started with poker night.
I tasted the chili. It had a very good traditional chili flavor with a definite taste of cumin. The meat had a good smoky flavor.
Booth 19, Betty’s Chili Noka’oi
Betty told me that “Noka’oi” means “Great” in Hawaiian. She described the chili as “Dancing on your tongue”. The chili is made with shredded pork, verde sauce and green tomatoes. The recipe was created for this cookoff.
When I tasted the chili, it had a good savory flavor of mild green chili peppers. It was mild, not hot.
Booth 20, OB Yacht Club:
Glenn told me that his chili is made with meat that is hormone free and steroid free, and free range chicken. The recipe came from his grandmother, who started making it way back in 1921.
Booth 21, California Sunshine:
I spoke with Chris. He said he uses different spices including Saigon cinnamon, six fresh chili peppers and six dried chili peppers. It is a true competition chili with no beans.
The taste was very unusual for chili, both sweet and savory. It had just enough medium heat.
Booth 22, Chuck:
Chuck told me that he uses stew meat and fire roasted chili peppers in his chili. It takes lots of time, he started chopping meat on Wednesday and started cooking the chili on Thursday to be ready for the cookoff on Saturday. He has been making his chili since the early 90’s.
All in all, some pretty impressive chili and a lot of culinary talent. Of the chili I tasted, there was not a bad one in the bunch. Again, my apologies to the people I missed.
Judges for the OB Chili Cookoff follow the ICS (International Chili Society) guidelines for:
– Taste-like chili
– Color-looks like chili
– Smell-good like chili
– Meat (if used) – tender
This years chili judges were:
– Sam Bruggema, SD Fireworks
– Don Mullen
– Raymond Simas
– Supervisor Greg Cox
– Carol Linton
– Sally Bixler
– Councilmember Kevin Faulconer
– Mike Bixler, San Diego Port Commissioner
– Bill Klees, Point Loma Association
Mayor Jerry Sanders was there serving up chili. Thanks go out to all these folks who took time out of their busy schedules to be there.
And the Winner is…
Judges Award – 1st Place $200 Booth 12, Lindsey Roland, Country Girl Chili
Judges Award – 2nd Place $150 Booth 19, Betty Deever, Betty’s Chili Noka’oi
Peoples Choice – 1st Place $250 Booth 17, Brock Scott, Allied Gardens Surf Club
Peoples Choice – 2nd Place $150 Booth 23, Cory Loughlin, Hoppy Big Eye
Peoples Choice – 3rd Place $100 Booth 5, Tracy Scott, O-Beeyah Chili
Best Decoration: Booth 13, Hang Ten Chili
Best 92107 Entry: Booth 1R, Da Hula Hut (Tiny’s Tavern)
Hottest Chili Award: Booth 17, Brock Scott, Allied Gardens Surf Club
Judges Special Award: Booth 15, Steve Dohrman, Hettiwanda
Judges Choice Restaurant Award: Booth 4, Bravo’s Mexican Bistro and Cantina
Peoples Choice Restaurant Award: Booth 4, Bravo’s Mexican Bistro and Cantina
This author’s favorite (unofficial):
Tie between Booth 15, Steve Dohrman, Hettiwanda and Booth 17, Brock Scott, Allied Gardens Surf Club (just couldn’t decide, they were both so good)
And let’s not forget to give a shout out to the restaurants that entered the Chili Cookoff. Stop by these restaurants for a bowl of the good stuff.
Point Loma Beach Café
1424 Sunset Cliffs Blvd. (near Pt. Loma Ave)
San Diego, CA 92107
(619) 758-1776 – Phone
(619) 758-9028 – Fax
4745 Voltaire St (between Sunset Cliffs and Ebers)
San Diego, CA 92107-1733
Lahaina Beach House
710 Oliver Ave (near the foot of PB Drive)
San Diego CA 92109
And finally, a special thanks for hosting the Chili Cookoff and providing the committee chili to:
Crave’s Cafe & Shades Oceanfront Bistro
5083 Santa Monica Ave (at Abbott)
San Diego, CA 92107
And a personal thanks to the folks at OB Mainstreet Association for getting me the information I was missing. You rock!