I had the honor of being the celebrity judge at Joel Meek’s annual All Bay Insurance Group customer appreciation event at E.G. Simmons Park. This year, Joel and his employees included a chili cook-off to bring their staff and customers together for fun and good food.
When I arrived, the six entrants stood at the ready behind their slow cookers to ladle up their best renditions of chili. No surprise, they were some high-caliber amateur chefs, so the breadth of chili types was vast.
Ann Talbot and Sally Raque served up Wicked White Chili, which was prepared with chicken, great northern beans, garlic, cayenne and jalapeno peppers for a kick. Kim Levesque’s and teammate Jason Foley’s offering included lean ground beef, kidney beans, chili powder, hot sauce and garlic, plus a splash of Yuengling beer.
To accommodate folks on a low-carb diet like himself, Tim Charpentier omitted beans and sugar in his chili. Marjorie Fontalvo made a vegetarian Moroccan chickpea chili and served it with fresh lime, sour cream and shredded cheese.
And Irma Agaj Meek kept her homemade chili recipe simple with a short list of ingredients. But to the beans, canned tomatoes and onion she added a blend of spices, cumin, chili powder and cayenne pepper. Wow, it packed some heat!
Mild or fiery, no matter what the ingredients were, the dishes received our utmost consideration. We took our time judging, savoring each entree – despite working up a sweat and getting a bit full.
Just what makes a great chili?
That all depends on who you ask. I’m not going to get into the merits of beans or no beans. For me, the required element for a good chili is that after you take that first spoonful, you want another – and another.
Capturing our taste buds was the low-carb chili made by Charpentier, Meek’s firehouse special and Fontalvo’s unusual Moroccan dish. Fontalvo also captured the People’s Choice Award, where every attendee had a say. Second place went to Charpentier and third to Levesque and the team of Talbot and Raque, who tied.
I have to admit the thought, “Why am I doing this?” has crept into my mind in the midst of downing spoonful after spoonful of chili at this and other amateur chili competitions. Days later, my tongue is still recovering from the onslaught, and I won’t even mention my innards.
The answer is I do it because I enjoy it. Getting out into the community, meeting new people and breaking bread are fun. It’s part of the reason I so love my job!
Lynn Kessel is a freelance food columnist. For more of her recipes, visit southshore.tbo.com and enter the search words “Lynn Kessel.”
Moroccan Chickpea Chili
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3/4 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons no-salt-added tomato paste
2 (15 1/2 ounce) cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 (14.5 ounce) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery, carrot, and garlic to pan. Saute 5 minutes. Stir in cumin and next 7 ingredients through red pepper. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add 1 1/2 cups water, tomato paste, chickpeas, and tomatoes, then bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Stir in cilantro and juice.