Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Hot Stuff! Bob Baffert, Bret Calhoun, and Chili #13

On Saturday, Bob Baffert won his 4th derby… er, that would be Lone Star Derby. Game On Dude defeated five other 3-year-olds in the $200,000 Lone Star Derby (gr. 3) at Lone Star Park, and is now pointed toward the Belmont Stakes.

Additionally, trainer Bret Calhoun captured both divisions of the Texas Stallion Stakes with Coyote Legend and Tin Top Cat.

However, it was not the allure of horse racing or the mystique of Bob Baffert that beckoned me to Lone Star Park, but rather the Inaugural Lone Star Derby Chili Cook-off, benefiting two horse rescue organizations, LOPE Texas and Remember Me Racehorse Rescue.

As I previously posted, John Records had asked me to be a judge. Truly, this provided an excellent opportunity to serve as a horse racing ambassador to chili aficionados worldwide. I could, potentially, win them over – trade in their habaneros for racing forms.

Hah! Turns out, this chili cook-off stuff is serious business.

Lone Star Park assembled 10 judges. We were informed to sit down, as judging would promptly begin at 2:00 so we could just forget about starting any Pick-3’s. Our no-nonsense CASI chili judging moderator, a proud 30-year CASI member and prize-winning chili cook herself, reeled off a litany of instructions with the precision of a drill instructor:

“There are 22 chilis. You will judge each chili using 5 very important criteria: aroma, color, consistency, taste and aftertaste. You will use a clean spoon and check each chili for consistency and then taste it, sampling it only once. No double-dipping. You will record your score on a scale of 1 to 10 using only a single whole number. No 4 ½ or 7.286. You will record this score on the correct line. After you record your score, replace the lid and pass the chili to the right. Be sure to clean your palate between each chili using cheese or fruit or crackers or water or beer. You will not discuss nor comment on the chili but if you feel that the chili might be too hot, you may quietly warn the next judge.”

No mention of available first aid should my lip peel off.

Confidently, I picked up my first sample – chili #7. A delightful aroma greeted my nose, with an unmistakable “chili red” that is so prized. Deftly turning the chili over with my plastic spoon, I easily assessed its consistency. I nibbled a small sample, fully aware that (1) the chili could be really hot, (2) I would be consuming 22 spoonfuls of chili as well as enough cheese, crackers, and honeydew to feed the island nation of Tonga, and (3) I was aiming to require at least 3 beers in this whole palate-cleansing process. Anyway, the chili’s taste was delightful – not too hot – and it didn’t leave any kind of “negative” aftertaste, like burning-esophagus flavor. I recorded my score, discarded my spoon, replaced the lid and passed the chili to the right to Judge Jane, who is in actuality, my sister visiting from Way Way Way Up North Texas.

Clean the palate – cheese cube and a swig of beer.

Across the table, Judge Audrey opted for a bolder action in her judging strategy, shoveling a large spoonful of her initial chili into her mouth. A surprised *Cough! Hack!* escaped her lips and had her swiftly reaching for a bottle of water. I wanted to praise her for keeping her composure and not screaming, “Holy crap! This stuff is hot!” but I was reminded by the CASI moderator that we were to “keep down the chit-chat and get on with business.”

As it turned out, judging 22 chilis required a certain amount of stamina. After sampling 11 or 12 chilis and eating the equivalent of two honeydews – I had determined early in the chili judging that I could eat a piece of melon a whole lot faster than a cube of cheese, and I figured that the cheese would bind me up – a queue of chilis began to form on my left. Clearly, Judge Bob was setting a rapid pace; I was lugging in on the homestretch. Concentration became essential. So did more beer – chili #13 had set a bonfire in my mouth. Also, I began to find myself hoarding all the honeydew from the other judges.

22 chilis and a gross ton of plastic spoons later, all the score sheets were collected and the judges were released of their duties. In an effort to recover from the experience, Judge Jane and I stood up with no plans in the near future to ever sit down again. I had had the foresight to pack some Tums in my purse for dessert. Judge Jane called me a wuss.

    * * * * *

My sincere thanks to John Records and CASI for providing me the opportunity to take part in such an entertaining and delicious event. And thanks to Lone Star Park for supporting two wonderful causes, Remember Me Racehorse Rescue and LOPE Texas.


The_Knight_Sky said...

Love spicy !

I would like to throw my hat in the ring for the position of Judge in the next Chili cook-off.

It's just fair to warn contestants that it's so very difficult to knock off the Wendy's Chili currently on the market. Let's get it on!

suebroux said...

You had better watch out, my racing friend - there's sure to be a CASI posse charging out of Terlingua to the Jersey Shore to come after you if you even hint at any kind of similarity to Wendy's chili! ;)

But definitely lobby for a position to judge as it was way too much fun.

The_Knight_Sky said...

I believe we have had Chili cook-offs but in recent years the Crab-Cake Cookoff has been a major hit.

Since I am on a "see-food diet",
I may have to cover that. ;-)