Saturday, March 24, 2018
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20180308 Llano Grande Chili Cookoff MILLER IMG 4557What determines a great-tasting chili? Heat, flavor, color or a combination of some, all or none of these?

“You have to have hatch chiles,” Linda Sanders said.

“I like meat in my chili,” Kim Hawkins said. “If it's beans, then it's a soup.”

“Loaded with flavor and creamy, gooey, yummy with just about anything,” added Paula Lake. “And with fresh green chile peppers on top.”

20180308 Llano Grande Chili Cookoff MILLER IMG 4549There could be hundreds of varieties of chilis. Which style to make – especially in a chili cookoff like the one held in the rec hall by the garden club at Llano Grande Resort in Mercedes – is not the simplest of decisions to make. The club held its first chili cookoff at 3 p.m. Monday and there were more than a dozen entries with a full spectrum of flavors, colors and heat. There was bean chili, spicy beer chili, Texas chili , red, white and green chili and more.

The event was a fundraiser for the newly re-organized garden club to raise money to re-establish the resort's butterfly garden. Hawkins, one of the organizers of the club and the event, said this was the first year for the garden club and the money will be used to bring in some milkweed and other native plants.

20180308 Llano Grande Chili Cookoff MILLER IMG 4562A unique aspect of the event was that there was no charge for the entrants and just a modest tasting fee of $3. The winner would be decided by the tasters – a true people's choice award. The tasters/judges did not know who made what chili. There were oyster crackers to cleanse the palette and a variety of desserts to finish off the event.

Sanders' chili was gushing with flavor and chunks of meat. The green hatch chile, one of New Mexico's finest delicacies, definitely separated that chili from others. In fact, all 12 chilis had their distinct flavors. That's what happens when the competitors are from all over the country – even though there was the regional favorite Texas chili among the competitors.

Ironically, Sanders hailed from (guess?)... New Mexico.

“I also make the Texas red chili but thought I'd go with this because people are probably not use to it,” said Sanders, who, along with her husband, are in their second year at Llano Grande. “My husband loved it and he is my guide so that's good.”

Paula and Mike Lake have competed in a few chili cookoffs, including at wineries, in Iowa. After the judging is complete, the host would also recommend a bottle of wine that could be paired with each chili.

“I would think it would be better paired with beer, but it was a real neat deal,” Mike said. “We decided to introduce the white chili here to South Texas. Trying something different like this is usually hit or miss. We'll see.”

20180308 Llano Grande Chili Cookoff MILLER IMG 4564With a complete different taste and appearance – chicken breast shredded in white sauce – the white chili was loaded with delectable flavors that many would normally not associate with chili. One taste, however, qualified it as chile, as the distinct white northern beans, green chilies, onion, cumin and cayenne pepper – and some Monterey Jack cheese – made it comparable enough to qualify.

Paula had worked in food service and said while she worked at a small college in Iowa she had a chance to try some recipes on very eager – and always hungry – students.

“One time I made an omwhich – an omelet in between two slices of toast basically – and the first time I made it, only one tried it. But the second time I think 40 or more tried it. Those kids were great.”

None of the chilis present looked to be insta-chili. Clearly there was a thought process into what type of chili to bring – red, white or green? Hot, hotter or hottest? Meat or beans... or both?

“I started making the beans yesterday,” she said. “The slower you cook it, the more flavor you get out of it and I started the rest at about 7:30 this morning.”

Hawkins, the organizer, said she didn't enter the event since she was organizing it. She added that she hopes it was a big enough hit that it would become an annual event. By the looks of the chilis, the contestants and the judges, the event should not have a problem with sticking around and heating up the competition. In fact, some were already thinking about next year.

“I have a neighbor that does a Texas chili and I think I'll make that one,” Paula Lake said. “It has kidney beans and jalapenos and thicker chunks of ground beef. I'm gonna get that recipe and bring it.”

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