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How To Host a Chili Cook-off

Yesterday morning I had the pleasure of speaking with three of San Francisco's busiest chefs, the men behind the PlumpJack restaurant kitchens. Jack Falstaff's Jonnatan Leiva, PlumpJack Cafe's Rick Edge, and Balboa Cafe's Jose Lemus each stopped by Balboa to deliver a batch of their ultimate chili. The chefs, along with the firefighters of Station 16, are taking part in an annual chili cook-off, benefiting the San Francisco Firefighter Toy Program.
Each chef submitted a recipe for a different type of chili. From now until Friday, November 7th, diners at Balboa will have the chance to sample all four and vote on their favorite. If you don't live in San Francisco you may not be able to taste the chili, but you could host your own chili contest! A chili cook-off is the perfect alternative to a formal Thanksgiving dinner or ideal for game day. To check out my ideas for hosting your own chili cook-off and the PlumpJack chefs' tips for making the best chili, read more.

When Hosting:

  • Start by asking a few friends (who enjoy cooking) if they would like to submit a recipe for your contest. Be sure you have enough space to keep the chili warm. For example, if four guests are bringing chili, you'll need four stove tops or oven space for several large pots.
  • A batch of chili serves a large group, so invite a bunch of people over to be judges.
  • To ensure that the kitchen isn't over crowded, have guests bring the finished chili dish.
  • Keep the menu varied and interesting by assigning each chef a different type of chili. The Balboa menu includes a beef chili, a pork chili, a vegetarian chili, and a super spicy chili.
  • Set up a toppings bar with grated cheese, sour cream, charred limes, chopped cilantro, tortilla chips, cornbread, etc.
  • Make the judging anonymous. Give each chili a letter. Print out score sheets and grade the chilis based on taste, texture, smell, color, etc.
  • Decorate with dried corn and colorful chili peppers.
  • Serve plenty of cold beer.
  • Have prizes (a bottle of wine, a limited-edition flavor of Tabasco) for the winning chili.

When submitting a chili recipe:

  • Keep the recipe simple.
  • Get a good flavor base by slowly cooking the onions and garlic.
  • When making vegetarian chili use a lot of vegetables. Grilled mushrooms and grilled tofu are hearty substitutes for meat.
  • For maximum flavor-melding, cook the chili for a long time. If you need more stove top space, cook the chili in the oven.
  • Roast chili peppers before adding to the chili.
  • Take the time to brown the meat before adding it to the chili pot.

Have you ever hosted or attended a chili cook-off? What is your secret for making the perfect chili?

San Francisco's Balboa Cafe.

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Chef Rick Edge of <a href="http:/... Cafe</a> made vegetarian chili.

The vegetarian chili is ready to be served.

The beef chili is ready to be served.

The beef chili boils away on the stove.

<a href="http:/... Cafe</a>'s Jose Lemus is the reigning king of the

The plated chili.

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The firefighters deliver their pot of chili.

The firefighters of Station 16.
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