May 28, 1999

Chili & Jazz Festival

Ohh mann!!! Not even third place!!!

By Daniel H. Muñoz

It started out as a whim and ended with the best chili being made, only to be shutout by the judges. I tell you, we were robbed!!!

The event was the 6th annual Imperial Beach Chili & Jazz Festival, held this past Saturday at the Veterans Park in I.B. My brother-in-law, Charlie Vasquez, and I decided that it would be a whole lot of fun to enter. And as I told Charlie the last time I entered a cooking contest, menudo cooking contest, we took home a second place trophy and had a whole-lota fun doing it. On top of that I had a great recipe and he was a great cook.

As with most whims this was a last minute thing. We had one week to get everything together - we were behind the eightball already.

Teresa Martinez added a little spice to La Prensa's chili booth. Making sure she didn't spill any chili was Teresa's daughter Stephanie (lower right)

What we lacked in time for preparation, we more than made-up for in first rate help. First there was Steve "the taster" Aguirre. Whenever Charlie did any cooking for parties or get togethers, Steve was always there to taste the food to make sure it was good. There was Franco Franco (the man with two first names). Franco lent moral support and kept Steve company. And there was Ali Trevino. Ali was a veteran of many Texas chili cook-offs and even boasted of coming in first-place once.

Our mission was to make six gallons of the best-gosh-darn chile Southwest of Texas, three gallons pre-made and three gallons made the day of the event.

So, armed with the chili ingredients we set about the night before making the first three gallons.

The first piece of advice we received from Ali was that the best chili came from Texas and that he had a recipe book of Texas chili recipes. When I showed him our recipe he was a little skeptical being as it came from some guy in Los Angeles, but his fears were for naught when it was later revealed that he was a transplant from Texas and that the recipe was indeed a Texas original.

So with recipe in hand we set about the business of cooking. The fact that we had to pre-make half the chili worked in our favor, it allowed for us to make some corrections, a couple of additions to the original recipe and a little heads up on what the next day would be like.

About four hours later we had our chili, and it was pretty good. Steve the taster gave it the thumbs up. Ali the chili-cooking veteran said it was a winner. So we all agreed, but we knew it could be better and we had the next day to improve on the second batch. So we were set for the chili cook-off.

Charlie and Angie Vasquez serve the last of their great chili to this unidentified chili lover.

The chili cook-off was the Sixth Annual Chili and Jazz Festival that combined good fun, good food, and good music to raise funds for the local organizations. This year they included: the Imperial Beach Boys and Girls Club, Imperial Beach Health Center, IB/SBCS Reach Out to Families Center and the Children's Treatment Center.

We arrived at Veterans Park at 8:30 in the morning and started setting up. We quickly noted that the veteran teams were already set and had their pre-cooked chili warming up. For Charlie and I, we spent the first half-hour trying to figure out how rig our makeshift tent so it wouldn't keep falling over. After a half-hour we gave up. I scurried back home to get another tent while Charlie set up the table and stove.

I am sure all the veterans who were sitting around sipping their coffee had a quiet chuckle on our behalf.

The crowd at La Prensa's chili booth just keep getting bigger.

Though we were confident in our chili we knew the competition was going to be tough. To our right was veteran chuck-wagon cook Jim Fox, who spent much of his time going around to Boys and Girls Clubs demonstrating outdoor cooking. In front of us, across the walk way was last year's champions, O.A.P's 2-stroken' chili, there was your commando chili with some tough looking marines doing the cooking, there were six cooks to our left working on their famous chili.. In all there were about 50 teams in the amateur category looking to see who had the second best chili, (naturally we had the best chili, or so we thought).

The cookin' part of the contest started at 10 am. 11 a.m. the festivalgoers got to start sampling the chili and start the voting for the all-important "People's Choice Chili". There were two judging categories: the people's choice where festivalgoers got to vote for their favorite and the judging category where the winners of the prize money where selected by a panel of 21 judges.

Here our inexperience really showed. The veteran IB chili cook-off participants had designated hawkers out front shouting out to all who could hear: "Come try the best Chili in Town. Vote for booth number so-an-so". Not only did they hand out sample chili but they were handing out stickers, or pencils or such gizmos that made it easier to remember their booth. This was important because voters had to write in the booth number of their favorite chili and if they didn't know or remember your booth number you were out of luck.

While we were a little short of gizmos to hand out we did have a secret weapon - we had local IB beauty Teresa Martinez on our side to help serve our chili. This helped our chances tremendously.

With the chili tasting underway we were apprehensive, how did our chili stack up to the others? Our question was quickly answered! The first few tasters quickly exclaimed that our chili was delicious. That was good news. Now we had the job of finishing the freshly cooked chili that was to be judged.

It was a great day almost everybody who tried our chili loved it, and now we were getting repeat visits. On top of that, we were being entertained by some great jazz music and enjoying the camaraderie with our neighbors.

Surprisingly the second batch of chili was actually coming out better than the original.

It was about one in the afternoon when we finally ran out of the first batch of chili. For really good chili it needs to simmer for at least four hours but we had no choice we had to start serving the just cooked chili. But we weren't worried, the chili tasted really good. We did have one complaint, just one, our chili wasn't thick enough that person said. Okay. And if we didn't claim our chili to be three-alarm hot some in the crowd didn't bother to stop, guess if it doesn't burn it isn't good.

One of the good things about Charlie is that, he is not shy. Early in the day he caught on that we had to start promoting our chili and he was up front encouraging the passerby's to stop and try the chili. Pretty soon we had a steady stream of people stopping. In fact we had to recruit an assistant for Teresa to help with the serving, thank goodness Charlie's wife, Angela was there to help. There was only one small problem, we were running out of chili and we still needed to save some for the judging.

There was still about an hour before the judging started and we were out of chili. This was a good sign; most of the other booths were still serving.

Now it was up to the judges. In the meantime we relaxed and waited.

Finally, at 4:30 the judges came out with the results: Miss Chili Pepper, Anna Moody, well deserved. Mr. Hot Stuff, Jesus Cruz. People's Choice Chili, O.A.P's 2-stroken' chili, all those stickers they passed out really paid off. First Place in the Restaurant Division went to Boll Weevil. In the amateur division third place went to J.B. Chile of Imperial Beach; second place, I.B. Health Center; and first place — IB Sell'n Chili. We can't believe, we were robbed!!!

The La Prensa Chili Cook-off crew (sitting on the grass, center) keep listening for their name to be called, but never was, darn. They still went home happy but determined to return next year even better.

Man not even third place, what a disappointment. Well we soon got over it, we knew that despite the judge's decision we had the best chili there. The proof was in our empty pots and the hundreds who came and confirmed the great taste.

We packed up and headed home. We were exhausted, but we felt good. We had fun and best of all we helped raise monies for some good causes. And as we left the park, we left with a commitment to return next year even better and determined to capture first place in the next millenium.

For those who want to try our recipe we have reprinted it for your enjoyment. And if you have any ideas on how to make it better please forward them to La Prensa, we're not shy about receiving help.

We took this recipe from C.V. Wood of Beverly Hills. He passes along a couple of tips that we will pass along to you:

Wood's fondness for cooking chili began while he was growing up in Amarillo, Tex., and he's been perfecting the formula ever since.

There were some odd discoveries in the process. You'll never guess, for instance, the secret ingredient that sets Wood's chili apart for others. Pepsi.

That's right. Pepsi Cola, or whatever carbonated beverage you choose to use, whether it's beer, or club soda. "I don't know what it is about the carbonation but it sure does something good to the chili.

Make sure you understand the difference between chili with an "i" and chile with an "e".

"It has always bothered me when a recipe calls for chili powder. Do they mean chili powder, which is a blend of oregano, cumin, garlic, salt and powdered chile peppers, or do they mean chile powder, which is just plain powdered chiles?" So if you use Wood's recipe, make sure the powdered pepper is chile with an "e".

Then there's the kind of meat you use. "That's important," he said. "You gotta have a piece of meat that an old boy with false teeth can eat." Wood uses fillet of beef, provided the chili is consumed within three days. If chili is reheated frequently, with chances of the meat in it overcooking, a less tender cut, such as flank will not break down as fast as filet mignon.

This extra-large recipe can be trimmed to serve fewer people. But, as Wood would say, "Why bother for a small amount? You can always use part of it and freeze the remainder for another day."


C.V. Wood's Racquet Club Chili

1/2 pound beef kidney suet or 8 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 stalks celery, diced
7 cups chopped peeled ripe tomatoes (about 6 large tomatoes) or 3 (14-ounce) cans tomato sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
3 Anaheim green or New Mexico chiles or 1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles
2 teaspoons ground oregano
5 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon finely cracked black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
5 tablespoons chile powder (use unblended chile powder)
1/2 teaspoon chopped cilantro
8 ounces cola beverage, good light beer or club soda
5 pounds thin-cut center pork chops, trimmed of fat and bone and cut in 1/4-inch cubes
1 quart chicken broth
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 pounds filet mignon or flanken, trimmed of fat and cut in 3/8-inch cubes
2 medium white onions, cut in 1/4-inch cubes
2 green peppers, cut in 3/8-inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 pound Jack cheese, optional
1 lime
Soup crackers
Additional shredded Jack cheese
Additional diced white onions

If using kidney suet, render in large saucepan to make 6 to 8 tablespoons rendered fat. Discard kidney suet and reserve rendered fat.

Heat 4 to 6 tablespoons fat in Dutch oven. Add celery, tomatoes and sugar. Simmer over very low heat about 1 hour or until tomato mixture is thickened.

Roast chiles over flame until scorched. Place in plastic bag to cool, then peel off skins. Remove seeds and cut chiles in 1/4-inch squares.

Combine oregano, cumin, black pepper, salt, unblended chile powder, diced chiles and cilantro in bowl. Add cola and stir until lumps are dissolved. Let stand 15 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon fat in skillet and brown, pork, batch at time. (Do not overcook.) Add chicken broth to tomato mixture along with cola (or beer) mixture and garlic. Bring to boil, stirring. Add cooked pork and simmer 30 minutes.

Brown beef in remaining 1 tablespoon rendered fat. Add to chili and cook, covered, over low heat 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Add onions, green peppers and thyme, and simmer 1 hour, stirring every 10 minutes. (Meat should be tender but not falling apart. Adjust seasonings.

Cool chili 1 hour, then refrigerate 24 hours to allow spices to blend.

Reheat as needed over low heat. (Freeze any remaining chili until needed.) If desired, just before serving, add Jack cheese to chili, stirring with wooden spoon until dissolved.

To serve. Squeeze lime over chili and stir to mix. Serve with soup crackers or with shredded Jack cheese and chopped onions on side. Makes 6 quarts.

Note: Recipe may be cut in half.

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