We talk a lot around here about why we love the Hill. The people, the picturesque streets, the sense of community, the small-town-in-a-big-cityness of it all – these are all things that make our neighborhood great. On Saturday, I got to experience all of that and more at the First Annual Walter Street Chili Cookoff.
Due to a confluence of events aligning the planets in my favor, I managed to get lucky and had the distinct honor of joining Teddy Folkman from Granville Moore’s, Jonathan Goldfuss from Think Food Group, and Daniele Catalani from Toscana Cafe & Catering on Saturday in judging the Cookoff. On to the good stuff, after the jump…
I’m not going to lie: I was scared. I was intimidated by the other judges (all luminaries who were really going to know their stuff) and I was intimidated by the sheer number of entries (25 chilies and eight cornbreads). I had several dreams the night before; in one I forgot about the contest and went and had a big meal and then remembered my judging duties and showed up having to ignore my already full stomach and get on with eating. In another, I showed up late, and it was a mad dash to taste as many chilies as I could in a very, very short amount of time. Like I do with everything, I confronted my fears with research. I went online to read up on chili cookoff judging and what I should be looking for and how to cleanse my palate and make sure I didn’t burn my tastebuds right off. When I showed up Saturday morning, I was ready. Nervous, but ready.
I wandered up to a good-looking bunch of folks and asked for Garret Hargrave, the event’s organizer. Garret put this event together in his now more plentiful spare time (like many of us, Mr. Hargrave has found himself unemployed for the time being) as a way of spicing up Walter Street’s usual block parties. He had no idea how many folks – not just neighbors, but their friends and relatives – would jump at the chance to show off their chilies and cornbreads. And, lest it seem that this was just another excuse to party, the Walter Streetians decided to use this event to raise some money for So Others Might Eat (S.O.M.E.).
The neighbors helped us prepare for our judging duties by making sure that none of us went without a cold beer, a bloody mary or a gulp of moonshine from a Mason Jar. (I’m from a suburb of Pittsburgh, PA and grew up not 10 minutes from the West Virginia state line. This wasn’t my first dance with moonshine, but it was definitely the tastiest with a hint of peach and none of the burning turpentine aftertaste so common with homemade spirits.) Our first task had us tasting the eight cornbread entries. I was impressed with the variety of cornbreads presented, and if there weren’t 25 chilies waiting for us, I would have happily filled up during this portion of the judging. But, I was taking my task very seriously, and managed to cut myself off at “just a nibble” of each entry. When we were finished, we submitted our judging sheets to Garret and waited for the main event to begin.
After a twenty minute break (and a couple of beers) it was time to go back to the judges’ chambers (many thanks to Leslie Scott for offering up her home for this purpose). We were greeted by a table full of chilies, in both the Traditional and Freestyle categories. I won’t bore you with the details of the rich flavors, creative ingredients and succulent meats, not to mention some experiments in molecular gastronomy that none of us were expecting, but I will say that the folks on Walter Street certainly know their way around a bowl of chili.
When the votes were tallied, the winners were announced. Jeff Emery’s entry – Kibbles & Vick – took home first prize in the Traditional category. Mr. Emery came all the way from Richmond, VA to compete on Walter Street and confided that this was only the second time he’s ever made chili. But he said, it was, “worth waking up at 5 in the morning!”
Brothers Ben and Tanner Flowers prevailed in the Freestyle category with their 3 Beans, 2 Brothers and a Habanero chili.
The cornbread competition was won by Carmen McLean, who named her entry “Baby McLean” after the little one she’s expecting on Thursday! Her cornbread was inspired by that found at Alto Cinco in Syracuse, NY where her husband, Carson, went to law school. I asked Carmen (who, it turns out, used to live upstairs from me many years ago) to describe Walter Street. “Walter Street is a unique place where a crazy but determined guy can put together a chili contest in the blink of an eye.” Sounds like a great place to live!
The winners were awarded a variety of prizes and given an official winner’s certificate graphically designed and donated by Phoebe Smith of Hunt Smith Design.
In the end, the Walter Street Chili Cookoff raised $421 for S.O.M.E. and was a delicious way to raise money for a good cause.
I think that Colette Marchesini summed up the event better than I ever could. “On Capitol Hill we have wonderful pockets of neighborhoods,” the Walter Street Chili Cookoff, “brought together food, fun and friends and very creative takes on chili!”