Tres secrets of chili: It’s all in the timing


Nothing to cookin’ chili, right? Wrong.

Chili cooking is an art, as was demonstrated at the 19th annual Kiwanis Chili Cook-Off on Sunday.

Cook-Off competitors Bob Dyer and his wife, Ellen, of Canyon Lake, are a team that puts a lot of emphasis on balancing the ingredients, which consist of two or three chili powders, herbs and cumin.

“It’s not what we use but how we put it together,” said Bob.

They use an ordinary cook stove from Coleman to cook it. The Dyers have been second in the World Chili Cook-Off finals three times.

When not cooking chili, Bob works as a trucker and Ellen works in real estate.

Rob Van Wagoner, from Visalia, entered the cook-off with his wife Dorothy. They also feel, aside from some hot stuff like fresh peppers, including jalapeno, that “timing” is the key. They prefer hamburger, but for competition mixes, they use rump roast.

If that sounds like racing lingo, it’s no accident — one of the first people to organize a chili cook-off was native Texan race driver Carroll Shelby, who at the time made a Competition 427 Cobra race car. So it was natural that in chili cook-offs, you would have one recipe for normal everyday eatin’ and another no-holds-barred for competition, to impress the judges.

Elissa Quesada, from San Bernardino, used about the same cooking time as the others–3 to 3 1/2 hours. Quesada uses chili powders, onions, garlic and tomato sauce, among other ingredients. She, like the Dyers, has finished second in the World Chili Cook-off in previous years. Quesada also has won in the Kiwanis’ People’s Choice category, a title conferred by members of the chili eating crowd who buy small paper cups full of chili and vote for their favorite.

Competing in chili cook-offs since 1983, Darryl Beller and came all the way from Bakersfield to compete this weekend. He uses oregano, cumin and other spices searching for “the tranquillity of spices” in his recipe.

Looking very macho was C.J. MacDonald, who arrived in a small motor home painted combat camouflage. In fact, MacDonald calls his team the “Topanga Combat Outlaw Chili Team.”

“My chili is a tribute to chili peppers,” he said. “It ain’t for sissies. In fact, the parasites in your colon will be glad you ate it.”

He admits to adding serrano, jalapeno and other spices. He can pronounce all these things with the correct roll of the tongue as he is, he said, an aficionado of Mexican culture. Also on his team was Helmut Haupt, a German who likes this aspect of American life.

Among the judges of the contest was Marty King, 41, who said what he looks for in chili is “taste, texture, smell and aftertaste.

“If it’s too hot, it knocks you over,” he said. “If it’s too bland, it’s not chili.”

King admits he is not good at guessing the ingredients, but knows what he likes. He is a 19-year member of the Kiwanis Club, which sponsors the cook-off.

C. Stanley Locke, age 78, from the state of Washington, was the oldest judge at the cook-off. He participated in one of the first chili cook-offs ever, held back in ’67 when Carroll Shelby called him up and said, “Come with me to Texas. We’re gonna stage a cook-off.”

He has been a judge at the Malibu cook-off for 19 years, despite this year having to recuperate from a broken neck and a recent stroke.

“No particular spice should stand out,” Locke said of the chili tasting. “If one spice is too strong, I eliminate it.”

As far as taste, he said, “If it does something there, I give it an extra point.”

The categories he looks for are taste, appearance, consistency and aroma.

“Zuma Jay,” otherwise known as Jefferson Wagner, is a world-famous surfer who makes Malibu his home. At the cook-off he shares seniority in the Malibu event with Locke, and he knows what he likes.

“I don’t like it too hot,” said Wagner. “If it’s too spicy, I grab the water.

“I try hard to bland out my palette between samples so I don’t confuse one with the other,” he added. “Once I try it, I step back a minute or two and evaluate it.”

Wagner also goes around the table twice, trying each chili submitted twice before he makes up his judging sheet.

Is chili a meal in itself?

“It is,” said Wagner. “But at home we use it on top of rice and even on top of mashed potatoes.”

Mashed potatoes? It’s a good thing Zuma Jay didn’t say that down in Texas. They’d likely string up a man for that down there.