Not eating anything for the 10 hours leading up to the sixth annual North Routt Chili Cook-off was a mistake. As was showing up more than an hour into the event, thinking there still would be food.
Clearly, my estimation of the deliciousness of North Routt chili - and the speed with which Routt County residents are able to consume it - was well under any level resembling reality.
That's pretty much where the drawbacks end for the event, which benefited from a beautiful Sunday afternoon and gallons upon gallons of homemade meat stew. They weren't all winners - literally and figuratively, as only one of 17 red chili recipes went home with a blue ribbon, but they were all prepared with a clear adoration for making good food for a good cause.
Chili is by no means one of my favorite foods. Honestly, the sight of the stuff made me uncomfortable until about two years ago. I blame this on a lasting trauma from thawing frozen bags of it in lukewarm water at the 24-hour diner chain I worked in as a teenager.
If you have never habitually handled a plastic tube filled with a slushy mix of ground beef, weak seasoning and tomato paste, I do not recommend that you start.
But chili has so many endearing qualities, so many ties to local communities, family traditions and huge festive gatherings that it's hard to stay mad at it. How can I keep a grudge against something that's just sitting there in its Crock-Pot, simmering away and making people of all ages happy by the spoonful?
And, judging from the crowds that packed the hallways, dining room and deck at the newly reworked Tuffy's Roadhouse in Clark on Sunday, the social benefits of chili far outweigh how absolutely terrible it smells when it's not prepared properly.
Despite hardly ever wanting to eat anything resembling soup that is almost solid - whether it's in the red, green or sometimes tastily chicken-filled "other" category - I was vastly disappointed when Cook-off contestant Chris King told me event organizers had tried to round up a contest judge from the Pilot & Today but weren't able to find anyone. (On an unrelated side note, King's chili has got to win one of these years. It's pretty killer).
So to the organizers of the seventh annual North Routt Chili Cook-off: If you need a member of Routt County's distinguished press corps to join the judging panel in 2009, I am so in.