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CHEF'S TABLE: Hot chili fills the void after long winter

102 Barrie Air Cadet Squadron hosting chili cook-off next weekend at the Army Navy Air Force (ANAF) Club on Morrow Road

"Wish I had time for just one more bowl of chili." — Last words of Kit Carson, American frontiersman (1809-1868)

Winter does not want to let go. I, for one, am tired of the snow, the slush and the slog. This winter has been the darkest in 80 years and I think we can all agree on the need for a little more sunshine and warmth.

While we wait for spring to go full tilt, I find myself looking elsewhere for a late winter warm-up. What helps me fill that void, you ask? A great big pot of chili!

And if you know, you know. That rich, warm liquid with a kiss of spice, hearty helping of tender meat and if you're lucky a slab of buttery corn bread on the side.  Savoury seduction at its best.

Chili con carne — or “chili with meat” — was first recorded in an 1857 text about the Mexican-American War. The recipes as written described a concoction of dried beef, suet, dried chili peppers, and salt, which were pounded together, formed into bricks and left to dry. Once dry, the bricks served as rations which could then be boiled in pots to feed the hungry soldiers. Not really the recipes that we know and love here in the north.

Chili became a common dish in northern Mexico and southern Texas and its popularity originated largely with the working class. The chili queens of San Antonio, Tex., were particularly famous for selling their inexpensive, chili-flavoured beef stew in their casual "chili joints."

The 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago saw the country’s first Ferris wheel built on the midway, an amazing spectacle. The Buffalo Bill Wild West show also saw the San Antonio Chili Stand help popularize chili by giving many Americans their first taste.  

Since San Antonio was a tourist destination, this helped Texas-style chili con carne spread throughout the south and west. Chili con carne has now been the official dish of the state of Texas since 1977.

There are lots of variations and recipes out there, and all have their own merits, but the basics are same. Vegetable chili, green chili, even a white chili — all out there to be discovered.

The great thing about this dish is that it's open to the cook to decide. It becomes an excellent expression of the creativity and resourcefulness of the cookhouse crew. Without a doubt, chili can be cooked in every way possible. 

It doesn’t matter what your favourite food is and what’s in the fridge, there’s a recipe right for you. In the mood for something sweet? Simply swap out cumin and paprika for honey or maple syrup. Got roast pork to cook? Cut it into small pieces and add it to your chili.

In short, whatever situation presents itself, making chili is always an option.

So why chili? It's good for your health.

Chili can be a very healthy dish if the cook wants it to be. Adding onions, two kinds of bell peppers and corn kernels make chili chock full of nutrients and vitamins. You can put whatever veggies you like – carrots, celery, zucchini ... don’t be afraid of those veggies! Just don’t call it chili con carne.

Chili saves you money!

Some estimates say a serving of chili costs around $1.50 or $2, depending on the recipe. Ingredients such as paprika, chili powder and cumin can be used for other recipes, so you don’t need to buy them every time you make chili.

For veggies, use whatever you have lying around the fridge and that are ready to be cooked.

Ground beef is definitely the most expensive ingredient in this recipe, but you can either use a little less to stretch it out or use an alternate protein, maybe an extra can of beans? Great way to use up items in your kitchen and maximize your grocery dollar.

Three words: Practical, simple and quick. Some chili recipes are complicated and take time to prepare. The beauty of this dish is that many tasty recipes take 10 to 15 minutes to prepare and 30 minutes to cook. It’s simple. You just  put all of your ingredients in a big pot and let the whole thing simmer while you take care of other things. If you have a crock pot, even better!

It fills the void … even for your brother with the hollow leg.

Chili is known to be filling. A hearty helping and the family won’t ask for anything else the rest of the night. The combination of red kidney beans, tomato sauce, ground beef, and veggies will tide everyone over whether they have big appetites or small ones.

And kids approve! If your kids are a little pickier and your recipe has an ingredient they don’t like, try replacing it and you’ll see how much they’ll love the reinvented version made especially for them. If they’re still skeptical, have them help you prepare it. It's amazing how they’ll suddenly enjoy the dish a lot more when they have had a hand in making it.

So by now I’m sure its evident that I like chili. Guilty as charged. So when my senior cadets at the 102 Barrie Air Cadet Squadron came up with the idea for a chili-focused fundraiser next weekend, I was in 100 per cent! Operation Crock Pot: Chili Showdown was born, 102’s very first chili cookoff fundraiser!

With the generous support from places such as Leadbetters Meats, the Barrie Royal Canadian Legion and Cedar Pointe Dental, our 102 Squadron has invited six professional culinary teams from around the region to the Army Navy Air Force (ANAF) Club on Saturday, March 25 to compete for chili supremacy.

Our invited contestants include: North Country BBQ, The Mexican House, Barnstormer Brewing, Wildwood Hospitality, Top Chef Winner Melanie Robinson from Eclectic Café, and Chef Chris Hallman Catering.

Tickets are $15 and available at the door and include three tasting tickets and a ticket for one of five raffle basket draws.

Public chili-tasting sessions start at the top of the hour beginning at noon with final tasting and judging at 4 p.m. 

Table-side there will also be fresh bread baskets compliments of Steve Fox from Fox’s Bakery and Deli.

Sweet B’s Bakery is on hand with a selection of cookies and treats and if you need to sooth the heat you can cool off with a refreshing taste of Sheldon Creek Dairy milk.

In addition to the themed raffle baskets filled to the brim with items donated by our cadets to be won, you can check out the online silent auction, chili-themed photo booth and 102 Squadron swag table.

The money raised are put toward leadership training opportunities and alternative education initiatives for the cadets in our squadron.

So save the date Saturday March 25, 2023. Come see us at the Army Navy Air Force Club, 52 Morrow Rd., in Barrie. Doors open at noon and awards presented at 5 p.m. The cost is $15 per ticket, which includes three samples and a raffle ticket. Additional sample or raffle tickets are also available for $3 each.

Come out sample some great chili and support one of the best youth leadership organizations in our community. The 102 Squadron and I thank you for your support.

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Daniel Clements

About the Author: Daniel Clements

In his bi-weekly Chef's Table column, Daniel will be looking at everything from local crops and trends in the business to seasonal delights and the local restaurant scene
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