Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fun Playing with Many Chilies to Benefit the Autism Society of Greater Cleveland

In a gutsy move - forced by logistics to be scheduled one night before the larger and more star-studded Market Under Glass benefit for the Cleveland Food Bank - the Autism Society of Greater Cleveland ("ASGC") tonight held its fifth annual Greater Cleveland Chili Cook-Off for Autism at Progressive Field. Approximately twenty five amateur and professional cooks brought their chili and fixins to the Terrace Club on a gorgeously sunshiny evening to help the ASGC raise funds for its efforts to promote education and awareness about autism, and to offer resources to families coping with autism. Its mission statement is:

“To serve the autism community by providing information, coordinating support services, and facilitating communication for the benefit of those with Autism Spectrum Disorders from diagnosis through adulthood.”

Dining with some of those families tonight drove home for me, who has no children (because I find the husband quite sufficient), the importance of the work being done by the Society and the value of the participation of the many volunteers and donors who attended tonight. For those of you who could not attend  tonight - the Society continues to welcome tax-deductible contributions (their website indicates that they are a 501(c)(3)); please visit their website or call them at 216-556-4937 to donate.

The sun shone and Progressive Field dazzled from the Terrace Club vantage.

But I was not there to sight-see - I was there to taste and pass judgment on no less than eight of the 25 chilies being served. The task was a little harder than I expected. More than one chili really needed more than just a small taste to allow the nuances of seasonings and tastes in the bowl come through. And so . . . 

My favorite chili of the evening (it actually was "tied" for best, IMHO, with Blue Canyon's offering) came from a prior Chili Cook-Off winner in the amateur category. And while I didn't remember this while I was tasting and judging, I was reminded later, when discussing this fabulous dish with someone, that Rudy Newman  (pictured above with his dad) is autistic. And a very talented cook!

Rudy's Chili


Rudy and his dad explained that this Romanian cross between polenta and porridge (this version rich with cheesy goodness) was drawn from Bram Stoker's Dracula, which inspired the dish. They were even prepared with copies of page 8 from the novel to explain the dish.

Mamaliga - Mama Mia was it delicious! The chili had a touch of sweetness, but definite pepper flavor balancing it off. Topped with a bit of sour cream - I'd hit chili Nirvana right out of the gate.

My next bowl came from Chef Charles Sanders and his crew at the Embassy Suites. They offered two chilies but I only got to taste one:

Smoked Pork and Beef Chili with House-made Cheese Straw

I liked this smokey chili - but the star of the bowl was the cheese straw! I especially loved the cracker in the chili - a sublime combination.

Smoked Apple Vegan Chili - Treehuggers Cafe

I approached this chili with a very open mind, and I really wanted to like it. I loved the concept of building the chili on smoked apples. It just didn't work for me. But that doesn't mean it wouldn't work for you!

Ken Kostal - Big Boppers Beef Chili

This was a "straight ahead" beef chili.  And most tasty, though it was one of the chilies that really needed to "build" a bit to be fully appreciated.

The Happy Dog Gang

Chef Eric Williams and his family were in the house - but his able assistants served up the goods! This chorizo sausage chili is the same served at The Happy Dog.

Habanaro Hot Sauce

This hot sauce is also on the regular Happy Dog Menu. Fortunately, I've tasted it before, so I knew to be very judicious in application (I needed to have working tastebuds for the rest of the evening).

Served steaming hot - this was a nice bowl 'o red.

But the Happy Dog gang was not satisfied with one entry - they also presented this vegetarian option:

Vegetarian Garbanzo Bean Chili

This chili is also available at Happy Dog (and can be paired with a vegetarian dog). I really, really liked it.

In addition to a genuine chili taste, this dish had great texture and body (I think there was some TVP or similar product bulking it up). I almost didn't miss the meat.

Linda and Randy Kelly, The Westside Market Cafe

Like Happy Dog, the Westside Market Cafe served the same chili that is served in their restaurant, which they explained is made exclusively from products available in the market. Fresh and flavorful.

The vividness of the vegetables really stood out in this chili.

My next taste came from George Soos and the Laurel Run Cooking School:

Beef-Pork-Roasted Poblano Chili with Habanero Corn Muffin 

This chili delivered a smokey taste without too much heat. The muffin proved irresistible (I was getting full and trying to not finish it) - I kept swirling it in the chili and munching until it was gone. Oh well.

This next chili tied for my favorite of the evening:

Blue Canyon - Urban Chili with Black Garlic Whipped Cream 

If there is such a thing as "chili crack" - this dish is it. An hallucinogenic form of cumin is the best I can do to explain it - the flavors in the chili itself, combined with the ethereal savory whipped cream (whipped cream - now why didn't I think of that when we cooked for the cook-off!) was an umami-bomb.

The dish simply exploded with flavor.

By the time I licked this bowl clean - I was pretty full. And aware, to my horror, that I hadn't even gotten to the second level of the Terrace Club yet. Heck, I hadn't tasted everything on the first level yet! I had fulfilled my judging obligations, and could have stopped there. But I summoned the intestinal fortitude to go on. Some of my favorite chefs were downstairs, and I had to have at least a taste.

Chef Jeff Jarrett - North End Wine Bar - Roast Pulled Pork Chili 

Chef Jeff told me what the greens were - but I apologize that the information didn't stick in my brain. It truly enhanced the chili, so it's bugging me that I can't remember what he told me, though the word "chive" is coming to mind. After all, pulled roasted pork doesn't need a whole lot of enhancement!

My next stop was with former-Cook-Off winner (amateur) and 20 Mule Team captain Bill Polewchak and his sous chef Fred Griffith:

Serrano Corn Pudding

This creamy lovely was the base for my taste of the 20 Mule Team Borracho:

20 Mule Team Borracho - Pork Cheeks, Chorizo, Belly, Pinto-Tequila Gravy; Cilantro Garlic Crema

A hit, as always! I was, unfortunately, single-digit calories away from "uncle" and therefore unable to fully appreciate it.

Pete Dressen - The Inn at Walden - Chili with lots of fixings - goat cheese, cilantro, creme fraiche, scallion, tortilla, sesame seed

The flavor that screamed out to me from this bowl was: Mole! And mole is a good thing. Especially as presented by Chef Dressen. But I could manage scarcely more than a bite.

I also loved the toppings, on their own with the chili, and together.

By this point, I was really done. But I had to taste one more bite - from Chef Kris Krieger of Chef's Choice Meats. I had loved his chili at the 2007 Chili Cook-Off, so I couldn't leave without a little taste.

This "straight ahead," un-adorned chili was the perfect bite to end with.

I could not even look at/photograph the dessert table (which appeared quite ample in size), though Bob grabbed a cookie before we went back upstairs.

We left before the winners were announced, and no amount of emailing, Facebooking or other social media is bringing me the names of the winners at this way-too-late hour. I'll update with that info later today.

We had a lot of fun playing with chili, while helping a worthy cause. You can also help make a difference for families learning about and dealing with autism by donating to the Society. Again, you can donate via their website or by calling 216-556-4937.

Looking forward to next year's event! Who knows - maybe the first winner in the amateur category (my husband) will be roused from retirement to spice and simmer again!

Edited to update you on the winners!

And the winners were:
Best Chili: Rudy Newman- Amateur (and my personal favorite of the ones I judged).

Peoples Choice: Ed Ripepi- Verso Restaurant - I didn't get to sample this one, darn!

Most Creative: Blue Canyon - also my choice, for that amazing chili with black garlic sour cream!

1 comment:

  1. Great to hear that the event went well, and I was sorry to miss it! Sounds like there was some wonderful chili being served up for a very worthy cause. Maybe next year it won't be so close to Market Under Glass so that I can go!