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Monday, September 4, 2017

Traveling Cowboys: Searching for Some Heat at the Annual Chili Fest and Cook Off in Okotoks, Alberta

The "e" for the "i"

Chili has to pack some heat.

We missed the heat at this year's Okotoks Chili Fest and Cook Off, and a question came to mind, "Are we getting soft here in the Great White North, or don't we understand heat when we need it?"

The International Chili Society (ICS), an organization devoted to the "promotion, development and improvement of the preparation and appreciation of true chili". According to them, ever since "the second person on earth mixed some chile peppers with meat and cooked them, the great chili debate was on. The desire to brew up the best bowl of chili in the world is exactly that old".


Perhaps it is the effect of Capsaicin spices upon man's mind? In the immortal words of Joe DeFrates, the only man who ever won both the National and the World Chili Championships, "Chili powder makes you crazy."

To keep things straight, chile refers to the pepper pod and chili to the concoction. The "e" and the "i" of it all.

The great debate, it seems, is not limited to whose chili is best. Even more heated is the argument over where the first bowl was made; and by whom. Estimates range from "somewhere west of Laramie," in the early nineteenth century as a product of a Texas trail drive, to the grisly tale of enraged Aztecs, who cut up invading Spanish conquistadors, seasoned chunks of them with a passel of chile peppers, and ate them.

Never has there been anything mild about chili and it should not change now.

We attended the Okotoks Chili Fest and Cook Off on 26 August 2017 courtesy of the town of Okotoks. As is the custom with great Okotokian events, it all happened downtown with the main street closed and the entertainment in full complement.


It lacked heat, and then it was too hot.

The ICS judges a bowl of chili according to five key characteristics which include taste, ratio, aroma, appearance, and bite.

Taste, above all else, is the most important factor. The taste should consist of the combination of the meat, peppers, spices, etc., with no particular ingredient being dominant, but rather a blend of the flavors.

Chili must have a good ratio between sauce and meat. It should not be dry, watery, grainy, lumpy, or greasy. It should smell good. This also indicates what is in store when you taste it. Chili should look appetizing. Reddish brown is generally accepted as good. Chili is not yellow or green.

Lastly, and most importantly it should have some spice or bite. Bite or after taste is the heat created by the various type of chili peppers and chili spices. This is what we missed from the concoctions at the Okotoks Fest, and we can only attribute it to the cooks being too timid and their Canadian pallets being too sensitive.

If you are going to have a cook off, you better pack some character with spice and come ready to compete. Only 3 out of the twelve teams understood the need for some Capsaicin in their cook. Those that did, came out tops in the competition.

After 12 tastings in the hot midday summers sun with nothing drink in sight, we were boiling hot and made our retreat to the Royal Duke Pub to tally the score. The iDental team definitely had the upper hand in this year's competition. They claim it is their paddle that's been seasoned by decades of use. They were our first place, and was followed closely by the Remax team which I believe are veterans in taking the laurels.

We learned a valuable lesson with this year's competition. Pace yourself and make sure to take in plenty of fluids. You will need it in this hotly contested affair, that is attended annually by as many as up to 10,000 people.

Hendrik van Wyk
Flaming Cowboy

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