Allison Plean: Some like it hot

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The second annual Downtown Hoedown hosts its first Chili Challenge from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday at Little Toots Park.

Past Event

Downtown Hoedown

  • Saturday, September 23, 2006, noon to 6 p.m.
  • Little Toots Park, 12th and Yampa streets, Steamboat Springs
  • All ages / Free

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Beans, beans - are they the magical fruit or are they good for your heart?

When I think of chili, I immediately think of beans and their side effects. But apparently beans are not allowed in "sanctioned" chili cook-offs - and for many reasons. Historically, beans were not used in chilis made prior to 1900. Beans also make it easy to mask bitter tastes associated with chili powders, and they can help people cheat by being an easy identifier for judges.

Adolfoh Pietro, a contestant in the Chuck Wagon Chili Challenge on Saturday, said the only kind of chili that has no bad effects on the stomach is "chili de arbol." Those are the chili peppers he uses.

When I talked to Pietro about how he makes his chili, he spoke about it in an emotional context. He said the chili takes on the feeling or mood of the person cooking it, and no two people can make it the same way. He also said that it is very important to not be angry or hungry when you make your chili.

I like the approach that Mary Kay Monger and the Routt County CattleWomen will take when preparing their chili for the challenge. Monger invited her teammates over to her house with their favorite ingredients. They'll mix it all together and see what happens.

"Every time I make chili I don't use a recipe, so it's always different," she said. "This chili will be a combination of everybody's twist to their chili, and we probably won't have a recipe because we won't know what's in it. If we win, nobody gets the recipe, not even us."

The most shocking thing I discovered is how competitive chili contests can be. George Trujillo has been entering chili cook-offs for 16 years, and although he said he would make a great judge, he doesn't ever want to give up participating in them.

Trujillo said people in these contests would even lie about what their secret ingredients are. Other contestants will rig the contest by having their friends come to vote for their chili to win the People's Choice Award.

Some prizes in these competitions can involve plane tickets or large cash prizes, but bragging rights are always a good reward.

Chili is an all-American dish. Despite some discrepancies, chili is not from Mexico. The early trail cooks and cowboys who made chili did so with cubed meat and peppers stewed in a large cast-iron pot.

I never have tried to make chili, but I am culinary challenged and was born with a very sensitive palette. I have tried to build up a tolerance to spicy foods - to no avail - and there isn't enough milk, sour cream or ice cream in the world to numb the pain. But I do hope that after attending the Chuck Wagon Chili Challenge on Saturday, I will develop a new respect for chili, even if it makes me breathe fire.

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