Food & Dining

Chili cook-off heats up Saturday, Sunday

Green and red chiles are the heart of prize-winning chili.
Green and red chiles are the heart of prize-winning chili.

No beans, no tomatoes, no onions.

Most recipe instructions don't begin with lots of "don'ts," but the Food Network's recipe for slow-cooker Texas Chili does exactly that.

Any review of famous chili recipes quickly concludes that beans are a big bone of contention.

Texas-style chili is really meat and chiles. Seasonings vary by region, custom, family history, taste and how long the cook claims to have had the recipe in "the family." But, no beans.

Emeril Lagasse, a pretty-famous New Orleans chef, offers his own take on the hot and spicy Texas staple from across the river. He starts out with rendered bacon grease, oh my. Lagasse does believe in tomatoes, however, and on that point there seem to be less disputations, unless you're talking about "verde," green chili, which has no tomatoes.

All this and more will be discussed - and tasted - at the fourth annual Islamorada Chili Cook-Off, Feb. 16-17 at the Islamorada Moose Lodge, mile marker 81.

Contestants from seven states plus Canada have signed up to compete for bragging rights. And a group of professional judges will be deciding whose "secret" recipe merits the highest honors.

Members of the public can partake as well, with 10-12 entries from local chefs available for sampling on Saturday and 20-plus professional chefs serving up chili on Saturday and Sunday after official judging closes each day.

Chris Everhart, a Key Largo cook who's won multiple chili cookoffs and is a member of the International Chili Society (ICS), says he remembers when the Keys' early chili cookoffs were held a decade ago at Rowell's Marina.

Growing up in Latin America and then Colorado, Everhart said he came to appreciate the subtleties of different recipes. And, he has qualified for the national championships five years running.

This is the fourth year for the Islamorada Moose Lodge Chili Cook Off, said Nancy Saxe, a lodge member and one of the organizers.

Admission is free. To sample chili entries, a $5 ticket allows seven samples, she explained. And the ticket stub becomes a vote to select audience favorites in a People's Choice competition.

Trophies will be awarded in both professional and amateur competitions.

There are three categories for the professional chefs competing: traditional red chili, verde (with green chiles) and salsa.

There are no beans allowed under ICS rules, Everhart notes, although some "home style" recipes not part of the official competition may be found during the two-day event.

What's a good chili cookout without music and dancing? Well, on that front the Moose Lodge has stirred up musical talent for both days. Among the groups participating: Barstool Sailor Micah, Scott Youngberg, Moss & the Blues Pirates, Devonshire Rockband, Grateful Ted Hyde and Viviane Ricard, The Toll Takes and more.

The Country Line dancing Chili Chicks, from Palm Beach County, will perform (and offer dancing lessons as well).

And there will be food and beverages available for sale from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days.

Proceeds benefit the Coral Shores High School Athletic program, The Good Health Clinic and Islamorada Boy Scouts.

For more information, call 305-664-8120.