Blog: Chili Takedown
A weekend in New York City is really not complete without the “Maverick of the ‘Mind Kitchen,” Matt Timms’ Takedown events. These modern, rock n’ roll style cook-offs have entertained many while creating some of the city’s newest culinary superstars. November’s return to the Bell House in Brooklyn would feature the much talked about, “Chili Takedown.” In the past there have been jerky, ice cream, and bacon Takedowns but we knew this would be an entirely different animal.
The method in which chili is prepared is really open to interpretation. Some would argue that a true bowl of chili cannot contain a single bean in it, dubbing it a “bowl of red,” with it’s sole ingredients namely meat and a savory tomato based sauce which has been slow cooked or simmered for a number of hours. But at “The Takedowns” these tired conventions have been left by the wayside. There would be no rules, as creativity and flavor became king!
At two o’clock sharp, the doors to the Bell House’s western themed Main Event Hall swung open. As with every Takedown in the past, this one would be a total sell out. Patrons reacted much like Pavlov’s Dog as a scent explosion of meat and sauce hit one’s nose upon entering. Tasting lines were formed, allowing all of us to move briskly down the long line of competitors, loading plates with chili samples. It was funny to see the balancing act that many had to pull off.
After erecting the perfect “Chili Cup Pyramid” we retired to a corner of the room for eating and judging purposes. Like with most tastings you need to have a clear palette between samples. This is especially important when eating something as rich and/or spicy as a chili. With that being said, we took many well deserved gulps of beer between tastes. This not only helped to discern one from the other, but it gave us a good excuse to celebrate on a Sunday.
Creativity was king, and so were slow cooked meats, yet it wasn’t just a well cooked cow that tantalizing taste buds. Many “Takedown” competitors took risks with their meat ingredients utilizing more exotic fare, which paid off well both in preparation and overall flavor. The first of which was an ‘alligator meat and shrimp chili’ called, Bayou Chili Part II created by Adrian Ashby. The seemingly disconnected pairing worked quite well together, once you realize that alligator has a somewhat seafood like taste, making the combination a success. News to us, very good news indeed! The second less than conventional choice came in the form of a ‘smoked goat chili.’ Upon the very first bite the smokiness was tasty without overwhelming.
Every chili tasting brought with it a fresh approach to this savory food staple. Each of the competitors did a fantastic job, causing many patrons to return for more sampling. While we champion each participant, winners must be crowned. It was nearly impossible for most attendees to choose just one. The judges took to the stage awarding funny superlatives to some of the wacky named selections before announcing their choice for best in show.
Their top choice was “Becky’s Bayou Chili” which included a hearty mix of braised short rib, andouille sausage, smoked pork, Amish bacon, and a slew of other spices. You would have to have a taste bud deficiency not to love this amazing combination. Shortly thereafter, it was time to announce the people’s choice winners. Taking the top prize was the throwback basketball jersey wearing team of Mel Stern and Kevin Wallace who created the “El Conquistador Chili”- a much talked about selection throughout the day. They celebrated in true “Takedown” fashion even “Tebowing” after the win.
With a full stomach of both chili and laughs, we collectively left the Bell House for that long walk up the hill to the trains. Many of us would hit the the gym to work off the afternoon’s gluttony, while many would head home and get right into bed. We choose the latter- the gym will be there tomorrow dude.
- Jay Rubin