Chili Cookoff 2012

Chili on epazote and split pea brown rice with diced red onion and Parmesan cheese.
The last chili competition I entered I won both first and second prizes - and there were only two contestants.

(I made two chilis.)

I bring that up because I am a vainglorious braggart in constant need of approval even at the expense of others (consider yourself trolled, Bruce!). I also want to make the point that there are endless varieties of the form...

...And I win at all of them.

Just kidding. My opponent Bruce made an excellent chili - a straight down the line classic Ohio chili with tomatoes, beans, ground beef and a chocolate bar (the worst kept secret ingredient in all of cooking). I brought several quarts of it to my mom, who was recovering from surgery.

There you go, Bruce. You may have come in third but your chili is good enough for mom.

I edged Bruce out because I cannot resist clever, over-the-top variations, embellishments and extravagances that give me an unfair edge if your budget is $40 and you are shopping at the local Giant Eagle.

I'm zipping around town from Zagaras to the West Side Market collecting specialty ingredients: lamb, oxtails, pig trotters, buffalo blade-in chuck, short ribs, whole cardamom pods, cumin seed, three kinds of paprika, whole dried chiles, fresh chiles, cilantro, epizoté, extra-fine masa and to guild the lily, Scharffen Berger chocolate.

Jamaican clove, cumin and fresh epazote.
Essentially, I won my victories the same way politicians win elections: I out spent the opponent.

My philosophy regarding chili may be sort of culinary shock and awe, but my assembly and technique is remarkably similar to Bruce's:
  • Build flavor in layers - flavors change over time, brighten them up by adding in stages peppers, onions, spices.
  • Don't be shy with the cumin!
  • Cook the beans fully before adding tomatoes, the acid will toughen the beans.
  • Slow and low, that is the tempo.
...And don't forget the chocolate.

When I heard that a chili cook-off might be happening at one of my old watering holes I got to work planning.

"What kind of outrageous braised meat could I use this time?"

Tongue. And cheek. Tongue in cheek! Yes!

I zipped over to Olivier's, but was rebuffed ("we usually only have tongue or cheeks on the weekends, try back on Saturday.")

Saturday is of course too late - you want your chili to rest overnight after an already multiple hour braise.

Beef tongue and cheek were out, but I had one hail-Mary left: trusty Duc-Loi Supermarket.

I knew they had pigs tongue in their butcher section most of the time, and I recall seeing whole sow's heads, so why not pork cheeks and tongue?


Pig's cheeks are under $2 a pound.* (For now... remember what happened to the price of beef hearts?)

And they come with the skin on! This is going to be even better than the original beef cheek and tongue idea.

One for the chili, one for the chef.
( * Probably of suspect provenance - and I will make it a point to encourage Doc Loi to stock sustainably and humanely raised meat - but at the time I was running down the clock on my ZipCar. )

Finally a note about styles of chili. This is an Ohio chili*, it has beans in it. The recipe is derived from stews made by First Nation for a millenium before Tony Bourdain appeared on the scene.

Texas chili has no beans, no tomatoes, just peppers and meat. It's delicious, but it's not my style of chili.

A younger me would have scoffed at white chilis or turkey chilis - but I've grown to appreciate them.

Shredded turkey in red chile sauce is excellent.

You cannot make chili with out meat. Sorry. Tofu does not belong in chili.**

( * I refuse to call it Cincinnati chili. The style is enjoyed all over Ohio and the Western Reserve. Also, Cincinnati might as well be in Kentucky. Add a shot of Bourbon, then you can call it Cincinnati chili! )

( ** Unless you count ma-po as a form of chili, in that case, yes, go ahead. As long as there's minced pork. )

Tongue-in-Cheek Red Ohio Chili:
  • Two sows cheeks, skin on.
  • Two pigs tongues.
  • Four or five large jalapeño chiles diced.
  • Two or three ripe serranos, diced.
  • Two poblanos, diced.
  • Two large red bell peppers, diced.
  • 3/4 cup of dried pinto beans, soaked and rinsed.
  • 3/4 cup of dried black beans, soaked and rinsed.
  • 3/4 cup of dried red beans, soaked and rinsed.
  • 1 28oz can of whole stewed tomatoes.
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste.
  • 1 large yellow onion, large dice.
  • 1 small to medium red onion, sliced.
  • 1 can of cheap lager.
  • 1/3 bottle of drinkable red wine.
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh epazote.
  • 1 tablespoon dried epazote.
  • 2-3 tablespoons of onion powder.
  • 2 tablespoons of garlic powder.
  • 1/3 cup of freshly ground whole cumin seed.
  • 1/4 cup of freshly ground whole coriander seed.
  • 1 bay leaf.
  • Water to cover - 3-4 quarts.
  • 1/4 cup molasses.
  • 3-4 tablespoons ground whole black pepper.
  • 2 tablespoons smoked Portuguese hot paprika.
  • 3 tablespoons smoked Spanish sweet paprika.
  • Salt to taste.
  • 1 bar of Hershey's Special Dark.
Order of assembly:

  • Brown the meat on the bottom of a very hot stockpot. You may score the skin of the sow's cheek if you want to render off some fat and reserve it (save it with your bacon fat).
  • Mix all dried spices together.
  • Brown half of both of the onions in the remaining fat with two jalapeños and one serrano for a few minutes, add tomato paste.
  • Add about 1/4 of the dried spices and stir. Add bay leaf and 1/2 of the epazote.
  • Return meat to pot, add beans, cover with water and beer.
  • Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for two to three hours.
  • Add more spices, and the wine.
  • Remove meat and shred the cheeks with a two forks. Dice tongue. Add remaining onions.
  • Return meat, add tomatoes, simmer for several hours adding spices about once an hour.
  • Add remaining peppers at one hour intervals.
  • Add remaining epazote at the end, along with any remaining spice blend, and the chocolate, remove from heat and cover with lid, allow to cool for several hours.
Serve on rice or corn bread but never spaghetti. This ain't Cincy.


On second thought, I'm not going to bother entering the contest.

Someone else can win for once, and I get to keep my all my chili.



Duc Loi Supermarket
2200 Mission Street San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 551-1772

Olivier's Butchery
1074 Illinois Street San Francisco, CA 94107
(415) 558-9887


  1. Ever make Michael Symon's Black bean and pork cheek chili?
    it has won me a few competitions

  2. I see Symon and I raise him face-bacon chili.. next up ;)


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