It’s all over, those of you — and there are many of you out there — who missed the third installment of the Manhattan Chili Takedown. Fifteen chilis, two judges, one unpredictable host, a swank club called The Plumm, a motley crew of both carnivorous and vegetarian chili-making characters, their friends, one small child, and it all came down to two champions: one, for the judged contest, and another for the audience’s choice. No, my chicken, pumpkin and hominy chili didn’t win either honor. And this time, neither did the entries from anyone I know. But such is life, and not eating out.
For much better photos than mine, do check out the freakshow (sorry, gallery) on the official Chili Takedown site. As you can probably gather from the recipe just preceding this post (which boasts one of the longest ingredient lists ever posted in Not Eating Out in New York history), I gave this contest my best shot. But that was not enough to outdo the inspired trove of chilis nor impress the honorable judges for the evening. These included veteran Chili Takedown judge and Ecco Books editor Emily Takoudes. This year she was joined by soon-to-be-author and fellow eating extremist Scott Gold, the Shameless Carnivore.
co-judge Scott Gold with his Chosen One, Steve Cash
Amongst the chili entries for the night, there were some oddballs. And I mean that without the slightest hint of sarcasm. After the tasting session had ended, each of the cooks stepped up to the microphone to introduce themselves and their chilis. One petite, older woman who went by a Star Trek alias explained that she had brought a chili made from a recipe in the Star Trek Cookbook. Just as soon as she breathed the details of her chili, she invited anyone interested to come talk to her about the New York Star Trek Fanclub, the USS Coyote. Another “chef” took several different cans of prepared chili – Amy’s Organic and Hormel, apparently very impartially chosen – and cooked them with three cups of vodka. Yet two other contestants gave their chilis an Eastern flair; one incorporated Thai chiles and fresh cilantro, and another one tasted as if it had soy sauce and Mirin. There was also a venison chili, the maker of whom boasted that he shot and killed the very deer himself. (The latter chili actually took home third place in the judged category – in no small part, I assume, due to Mr. Gold.)
are you going to eat that?
Understandably, there was some gasping to be heard as the microphone was passed around. I detected more than a couple shocked faces in the audience, and for my part, experienced a few unpleasant turns of the stomach.
On a brighter note, Steve Cash cooked a crowd-pleasing chili – smoky, meaty and not too hot – and proudly took home first place in the judged category as well as second place in the popular vote. Upon acceptance, Steve apologized that he couldn’t divulge many details about his “secret” borrowed recipe, but I’ll eat my hat if it didn’t have a rather unhealthy dose of bacon. (Actually, I got a big strip in my mouth when I tasted it.) As for the audience appreciation award, a second first-prize honor and grand prize of $100 was awarded to Matt Busman for his now-classic recipe.
hey, nice job!
Nine-Dollar Bottles of Beer on the Wall
Let’s talk for a moment about the atmosphere. The Plumm is a slick, mahogany-laden clubby-type place in Chelsea, an odd choice for any cook-off. It appears that Takedown organizer Matt Timms is testing its waters after the recent close of the event’s fathering East Village locale, Mo Pitkins. I had a bad feeling about its prices the moment I stepped up to the bar. There was nothing on tap, and the bartender informed me the only three beers they served were Heineken, Amstel Light and Corona, by the bottle. Despite my gut feeling, I ordered an Amstel… for $9! For my next (and final!) drink I ordered a whiskey on the rocks, which was a comparative bargain at $11.
I know I like to stress the importance of saving a big buck by not eating out in the city. But when merely drinking out can lead to this type of highway robbery and pure, foolish flamboyance – what douchebag drinks a $9 Corona? – I have to admit, I feel a little defeated. But for now, I’ll just say that the expense was worthy sacrifice for being able to participate in a great home cooking contest. Crazy home chefs, sharing their crazy big pots of homemade chilis, drinking crazily overpriced average beer. Yes, I’ll drink to that… for now. And I do have to give Mr. Timms credit for actually booking the event at The Plumm, as the staff hardly looked amused by the bubbling vats of chili and glutton fest that ensued.
the inimitable Matt Timms
So there it is. Chili history in the making, only lacking the winning recipes and substituting them with my meager entry. Don’t miss out on an upcoming second-ever Fondue Takedown. Details are yet to be announced, but don’t worry, I’ll remind you beforehand next time.