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For the week of Mar. 1 through Mar. 7, 2000

Chili, chili, chili. . .

Foodies, outlaws, some in a flash of heightened consciousness, serve up their best


By TRAVIS PURSER
Express Staff Writer

25-year chili-cooking veteran Hailey Councilman Rick DavisImagine eating 13 kinds of chili, then going home to your family.

Dozens of people at the Valley Market Sunday did just that when they sampled, among others, "Girl Catchin’ Chili," "Outlaw Chili" and chili made from elk.

Self-proclaimed "research historian" Ivan Swaner, 66, was there gathering data. Negotiating spicy morsels around a two-inch-high handlebar mustache, he exclaimed, "I’ll put my moose chili up against anybody’s!"

Moose chili? Yep.

Bellevue’s 4th annual chili cook-off (feel the heat, gringo) attracted contestants from all over the state, at least one displaced Texan and a near-world-championship-chili cook-off winner.

"Where’s the Maalox?" inquired the gray-bearded Art Barrett, 58, standing over his foil-wrapped hot pot.

Barrett, peering between his bifocals and leather gunslinger’s hat, explained that of the dozens of cook-offs he’s competed in, this is the first one he’s ever seen without a handy supply of antacid available.

A Boise resident, Barrett said he has competed in Coeur d’Alene, San Francisco, Las Vegas and—the highlight of his chili-cooking career—in Terlingua, Texas, where he finished in the top 10 of 800 contestants in the 1985 world championships.

Barrett’s advice to novices: "You can’t be bored—you’ve got to do something with it every once in a while."

Which brings us to our next contestant.

Chipotles, pasillas, a squeeze of lime to separate the flavors and "this fall’s kill"—Alaskan moose.

Those were just a few of the ingredients that went into Kate Keating’s red-hot concoction.

Keating, a native of Van Alstyne, Texas, insisted moose is one of the more prosaic meats she’s ever heard of anyone putting into chili.

Other options? Squirrel. Armadillo. Rattlesnake.

Yee-haw.

Keating, who wouldn’t give her age for the newspaper because she has a crush on a younger man, she said, waxed philosophical about why genuine chili never contains beans.

"It originated with the tradition of the cows and the influence of Hispanic chilies," she said. "That’s why there’s no beans."

Competing at a neighboring table was Keating’s son-in-law, Adam Stone, a goateed man looking very professional in a red apron and white, button-down shirt. Milling around the crowd, you could overhear people saying things like, "His chili’s good…."

It begged the question of whose is better, Keating’s or Stone’s?

The nonchalant Keating: "Well, considering he’s only using hamburger…."

Stone, who in fact won the competition, merely grinned and raised an eyebrow when asked how his recipe compared to his mother-in-law’s.

Perhaps Stone got a tip off to his imminent victory when his popular "Santa Fe Green Chile Chili" was the first entry to be completely consumed by the ravenous crowd.

Free from his serving duties, he sidled up to this reporter to wrangle a pre-victory interview.

Stone, 28, was obviously what’s known in the restaurant business as a "foodie"—a nonprofessional with nearly all the skills and sometimes more enthusiasm than many top-notch chefs.

He described his first cooking contest last summer in Ketchum as if it was a right of passage. His dish, grilled halibut with a tomato, basil, honey and basalmic vinegar sauce, came a mere one point away from winning an "awesome, awesome" outdoor grill, he lamented.

"I really wanted it bad," he added.

Stone won $100 for taking first on Sunday.

Sometimes, slow and steady wins the race—or comes in second anyway—and Fritz Shafer of Hailey, keeping a low profile, did just that.

Spurning the clever sobriquets and theatrics, Shafer was strictly business serving up his no-name, four-hour chili. No doubt his secret ingredients—beer and chorizo—combined with his attention to detail and his friendliness to help him nail down second and a $50 prize.

Not bad for a first-time contestant.

Jim Mayne tied for third, pocketing a $25 prize.

Mayne, a cross-country trail groomer for the Blaine County Recreation District, conceived his "Boulder Mountain Chili" in a flash of heightened consciousness following an 80-hour grooming session during which he never slept, he said.

Deep, rich and mellow, Mayne’s chili got its kick from hot Italian sausage, its allure from sweet Italian sausage and its substance from beef.

James Turley, also taking third, was nowhere to be found until the awards presentation. A woman served his "Girl Catchin’ Chili."

When asked if Turley caught her with the chili, Katie Nilsen, 23, said "I have no idea." Appearing a little jaded, she explained that the name came from Turley’s grandmother who invented the recipe.

Perhaps like everyone else, she had had too much chili, not enough chili or too many different kinds by then.

As for the cook-off, Nilsen summed up: "It’s everything I hoped it would be, and more."

 

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