I take my chili seriously. One of the nicest things anyone ever did for me occurred a number of years ago when a colleague brought a container of his chili to work - and his recipe. He used coffee, cocoa, beer, cumin and oregano in his chili. I have been riffing off that recipe ever since.
At today's 4th annual Uptown Waterloo Chili Cook-Off, the people's choice award and judge's award both went to Dana Shortt Gourmet. Here is my assessment.
Winner: Taco Farm
This was a sophisticated chili. Instead of simmering everything together for a long time, it tasted like some of the ingredients were mixed in at the last minute. The base was smoked beef shoulder in a light-colored, smoky-hot sauce. Along with that came crunchy vinegar-marinated sweet onion slices, fresh corn kernels, chopped jalapenos and fresh cilantro. The chili was arguably a tiny bit too sour when eaten with a spoon, but it was perfect on a homemade tortilla chip (which they provided). This is a recipe I am going to try to replicate.
The Taco Farm team dressed up like Mexican wrestlers:
Runner Up: McMullans
McMullans dished up a classic ground beef chili, heavy on the meat. It could have used some condiments: with some grated cheese, chopped raw onion and hot sauce, it would have been great. (Condiments weren't part of the cook-off however.) McMullans also deserves kudos for being the only establishment to have participated in all four years of the uptown chili cook-off.
Honorable Mention: Dana Shortt
Shortt made a braised beef brisket chili. The beef was cooked perfectly - moist and falling apart - but the chili was bland and did not have much depth of flavor. Worse, it was sweet (this is a particular bugaboo of mine). The main ingredient was meat, and other than sauce and a few beans there was nothing in it. To sum up: it was well-executed but not to my taste. It came with a peculiar deep-fried avocado ball.
Sad Regrets: The Red House
The Red House ran out of chili just before I arrived. The Red House is my favorite uptown eatery and my go-to spot on a Friday night, so I was very disappointed in myself for tardiness. Next year (shaking my fist), I vow to not be late...