September 20, 2012
The chili was hot and the weather was chilly at the Carmel Valley Chamber of Commerce’s 19th Annual “Great Bowls of Fire” Chili Cookoff. (Photos by Hanif Panni.)
In a shift of scenery from recent years—which perched the cookoff on the classy grounds of the Holman Ranch—the 19th annual was held at The Barnyard shopping center, with a view of the highway instead of the hills.
But a steady flow of spice and tequila, and folksy tunes from Stormin’ Norman and the Cyclones, seemed to make the 300 attendees happy. Twenty-two contestants, amateur and pro, competed for the bragging rights in four categories.
Best Professional Chili went to Santa Lucia Preserve, which also won Best Margarita. The generous portion of pork chili adobo with roasted tomato salsa and corn pudding—comfort food at its finest—nearly took up too much stomach real estate to taste the other entries. Clever play.
I found the Preserve’s Vaquero Amor Rita, tequila marinated in Midori, grenadine and triple sec, to be a little too Valentine-sweet, but it took first—making this the Preserve's third title for cocktails to pair with three for chili. GM Ray LeMaire was all smiles (or at least a little bit more than normal).
It’s a shame the reigning champs' winning cuisine isn’t available to the plebeian public: the Preserve, a tony development in the Carmel hills, and its Hacienda, where Chef Carlton Lepine serves up his masterpieces, is for members only.
Second-place pro chili winner was my personal favorite, Bernardus Lodge, whose chef, Anna Steege, created a somewhat sweet and stewy, beanless chili featuring braised short ribs and a medley of roasted peppers, many of them grown organic on the Bernardus grounds.
Third went to Paradise Catering. The chef’s home-grown heirloom tomatoes in bright hues added a raw, sweet freshness that made her Tie Dye Chili stand out among all the beeves.
Second- and third-place margarita honors went to Carmel Valley Ranch and British Bulldog, respectively. The Ranch got my vote with its honeyed creation, featuring the plunder of its own on-site apiary and Monterey Bay salt dried in its own salt house. Sommellier Dave Eriksen squeezed the limes and oranges himself, and wore a beekeeper’s hat for added authenticity.
The amateur chili prize went to AT&T, which tapped Cowboy Sausage for its edge. We found his concoction to be somewhat schizophrenic, with a few too many meats and flavors to make sense of.
But then, we may be bruised by the fact that the Weekly’s own Oh My Goat: Chili From God, Everlasting Spice entry—a divine blend of slow-simmered goat meat, seven peppers and robust spice by MCW contributor-star home chef Daniel V. DeCamp (right, next to sister Panni), paired with jalapeño-white cheddar cornbread made by editor Mary Duan’s own hubs—didn’t place. Blasphemy.
Carmel Valley resident Bill Robertson took the second-place amateur nod with his 007 Chili. Robertson once owned Ioli’s Pizzeria in the valley, and his partner Fran once owned Duffy’s, giving them a pro’s edge in the amateur category. Robertson stayed in character as a stoic James Bond while serving, adding to the classy factor. Galante Vineyards took third.
Galante also took first prize for best-decorated table, followed by Plaza Linda and Earthbound Farms. We tip our hats to Earthbound in particular for proffering the organic greens to offset the onslaught of red meat.