The first time I attempted to make chilli con carne was for my first proper boyfriend. I was playing domestic goddess whilst my Mum was away; ready to surprise him with a bottle of wine, some home cuisine and a night of unbridled teenage passion.
This isn’t a happy story – after using a state of the art Shwartz seasoning shake I duly burnt the mince so we had a chemically, fag-burn pile of grey mince with soggy veg to wade through; plus he wasn’t a fan of wine and I don’t think my crying over the meal helped. Needless to say the relationship didn’t last for long.
Over the years I’ve honed my chilli making skills to be somewhere near passable – I like the results anyway – but it’s nowhere near authentic; my version has a satisfying savoury sweetness with a smoky/spicy kick and is cooked low and slow for a melt in the mouth finish – but this isn’t about my chilli, this is about the latest speciality night at Almost Famous.
Digressing from burgers and their usual Thurs-Sun opening policy, The Big Chilli Cook Off pitted three of the Famous chefs (yes, even burger joints have chefs) against the two owners, with Manchester’s joe public (well those that paid for the pleasure) judging/scoring each chilli.
Straight through the door and we were presented with a Lil’ Sloppy Juan, which was meant to be a slider, but was almost the size of a regular Almost Famous burger – pink as per usual, the patty was cajun spiced and slathered in crispy onions, cheese, chipolte paste, famous sauce and plenty of chillies.
Then the chillis – you controlled which order you ate them in; with no hint as to taste/spiciness, so each bowl was a gastronomic gauntlet, that was both fun and tongue trembling scary at the time. You got as much guacamole/cream cheese/salsa etc as you could fit in your bowl/mouth/tummy to enhance/cover up the flavour and to dip the unlimited nachos in – take it from me, totally filling. A rundown of the chillies was thus and in order of my favourite (least first, favourite last):
• John Wayne – from the name I expected a large, swaggering chilli that was going to sternly yet respectfully slap me round the chops before lingering on my taste buds until disappearing off in to the sunset – I found this chilli a little under seasoned and without much depth of flavour. Good, but no cigar, pardner.
• Ben’s Bad Ass Chicken Chilli – I have issues with the meat here, call me snobby but I like red meat in my chilli. This was the fiercest of the chillis, apparently the recipe was loaded with plenty of scotch bonnets thrown in for the chilli fiends, however this made it a bit too spicy for me, but good flavour (once you got past the heat) and I enjoyed the non-textbook inclusion of sweetcorn.
• Mad Dog’s Meaty Feast – this seemed more like a stew than a chilli; no bad thing as it was full of gamey, winey, umami flavours with super tender meat and a mellow spicy tickle underneath from the added chorizo. I got two bowls of this, not technically allowed, but so what, I’m a rebel/glutton or something.
• Jailbreak/bait – Very nearly my favourite chilli; this was a super smoky mouthful of tender beef with a bit of a kick at the end to make you sit up and listen. Topped with pulled BBQ pork, which added a whole extra dimension of flavour/texture it certainly was a contender for the top spot and was the one that received the most votes over all.
• Flippin fuckin bloody chilli – Just beating jailbreak/bait for the extra depth of flavour and a slight tone down in the spice, I loved this chilli and damned myself for eating it last – when I snuck back for an illegal second helping it was all gone.
So you just went and judged what chilli was best was it? No, remember we were at Almost Famous so there was some audacious theatricals to keep the punters happy- as the night was an homage to southern style eating, food contests and general Man Vs Foodness then the only thing for it was a hot wing eating contest.
Hot wing eating? Ah this was no volume/speed challenge though – this was a sheer, bloody minded heat/pain contest; the winners those that could make their way up to the hottest chicken wing and successfully keep it down/not die. Call me a masochist, but there is nothing more pleasurable than watching 13 grown men gasping, tears running down their face and calling out for their Mummies. I don’t know how they made it to the end as even the penultimate wings singed my nose hairs and made me gag as they were walked past. Brave men, we will remember them all.
Chilli Cook Off wasn’t as formal or busy as Pig Out, but was a whole lot of fun – I went home full of meat and booze; stuffed and happy that I had watched a table full of grown men reduced to blubbering wrecks. It’s the simple things in life.
Please note I was given my ticket to this event, but I was under no obligation to write nice things, I just really enjoyed myself and thought it would have been well worth it for the £15 I would have paid.