How to judge a chili contest

After covering the Power County Hospital Foundation chili feed for the newspaper six years in a row, they decided to make me a judge. This may have been to just get me out of the way. I do love me a good bowl of chili, and if I’m a judge they have to bring the chili to me so I don’t clog up the line.

This was a serious affair, and the judging sheets actually had four different chili attributes to rate. I wanted to make sure I did it right. So here is the proper way to eat chili: I identified the chili’s color (brown, brown and reddish-brown) before swirling it in my bowl to intensify the aroma, after which I sniffed the bouquet selectively, identifying the aroma as either “state fair” or “grandma’s kitchen.”

Then came the actual tasting. I swirled the chili around my tongue, making sure to identify the fullness or thinness of the chili, as well as the sweetness, saltiness or bitterness the chili had. I prefer a dry chili myself. Then I spit it back in the bowl so I wouldn’t get too full.

Just kidding. I just ate the chili. I ate a lot of chili.

Humor columnist Bruce Cameron wrote a famous column about being a chili feed judge. In his column, the chilis all get progressively spicier, which makes him drink more and more beer, to hilarious results. Thankfully that’s not what happened. But I have to say that eating nine different chilis in a row is somewhat of a daunting challenge. And they weren’t even serving beer, other than the root variety.

If you were to make a graph with sweet chili on one end and hot on the other, I think the perfect chili would be somewhere in the middle. I wasn’t disappointed, the chilis were all excellent this year and I did not give a single chili a low score. And, I’m pleased to report, I walked out of there alive. Yes, walked. With my head held high and my belly full of nine bowls of excellent chili.

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