Margaret Hair covers arts and entertainment for the Steamboat Pilot & Today in the weekly 4 Points magazine.

Pilot & Today staff

Margaret Hair covers arts and entertainment for the Steamboat Pilot & Today in the weekly 4 Points magazine.

Margaret Hair: Ready for Chili Cook-off

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Margaret Hair

Margaret Hair's column appears Fridays in the 4 Points arts and entertainment section in the Steamboat Today. Contact her at 871-4204 or e-mail mhair@steamboatpilot.com.

— Since being tapped as a judge for the seventh annual North Routt Chili Cook-off, I've been considering entering the contest. My judgments will be confined to the "other" category - a several-times-stated-in-print lack of an affinity for chili convinced contest organizers to keep my point-scoring focused on soups and stews. It's hard to resist the temptation of being able to hear other judges' comments on any dish I might decide to enter in the red chili, green chili or dessert brackets of the competition.

Contestants in the liquid categories are required to be at Glen Eden Family Restaurant & Tavern in Clark at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, hauling no less than 6 quarts of chili or soup in a Crock-Pot. With no slow cooker at my disposal and a handy stockpile of cobbler recipes from my grandmother's church cookbooks, I'm leaning toward the 40-serving requirement of the dessert category.

Having never entered any kind of culinary competition, I'm not sure how to approach crafting a dish that might pass a panel of judges. So I've compiled a list of lessons learned from following the highly addictive cooking show television genre, featuring series such as "Iron Chef," "Chopped," "Top Chef" and "Hell's Kitchen."

¤ Choose simple ingredients and find a way to make them more interesting. If a soup can be made with chicken instead of scallops, do that; scallops are notoriously overused on "Top Chef."

¤ Do not cook something you have never tried before. In the dessert category, my recipe book is limited to a handful of tried-and-true cookie recipes - none of which are adapted to high altitudes - a pound cake, caramel icing, brownies from a box, and cobbler. Cobbler feels like the best option, unless pound cake with caramel icing makes a last-minute rally.

¤ Do not argue with the judges. This isn't an issue at the North Routt Chili Cook-off, as there is no television audience to hold in suspense and no reason for contestant-to-judge interaction. Still, arguing never works.

¤ Don't put something on the burner and then walk away for half an hour. This seems to happen all the time on Food Network.

¤ Don't put bacon in dessert. Professional pastry chefs can pull it off. I can't.

Contest organizers hope for 70 entries in this year's cook off, so there should be plenty of food available to be dished into small serving cups Sunday. Even so, be sure to get to Glen Eden within a half-hour or so of the 2 p.m. event start - a sunny day and hungry crowd wiped out several chili contestants' dishes by about 4 p.m. last year.

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