2010 Rockabilly Chili Roundup
It was another stellar turnout Sunday at MSOE’s Kern Center for the 8th Annual Rockabilly Chili contest. Over 3,000 red, white and green chili adventurers explored more than 50 different recipes by some of Milwaukee’s favorite restaurants and caterers.
While the chili concocters didn’t attempt some of the more unusual ventures of years past (no alligator this time), there were a few noticeable themes this time around. Some of the newer pizzerias in this year’s fray tried out pizza-based recipes, while others raised their mole and Texas Red pots with chocolate toppers. In the latter case, sometimes it worked, but others mistakenly used overly sweet chocolate, which changed the flavor.
Something else new the organizers tried out this year was a projected ‘Top 5’ leaderboard (managed by Too Much Rock/SMAC Design) based on the vote totals from cell-based texts. While paper ballots were also counted at the end before announcing total results and winners, displaying the ongoing result over the afternoon caused a rush at certain tables as buzz grew. There are four categories now: Best Meat, Best Veggie, Best Heat and Best Display.
While it would seem that the exposure from just participating in the event would be enough for most contestants, beneath that is a sure bragging right to having the best chili in Milwaukee, and the competition has become fierce over the years. Some divvy their attention yet still gain fine results; the Good Harvest Market was favored for awhile with both a Mango Fire veggie chili and a Pork and Avocado meat chili.
Others concentrate efforts in one direction; the Comet/Honeypie offering was a dark piece of convection with at least three different types of meat and came in second place. Across the room, sister restaurant Palomino used eggplant as their basis and created a nice veggie brew.
There also seemed to be a split this year among chefs giving away special recipes and others who remained steadfast with their specific store recipe, concentrating on perfecting the nuances in their 10 to 15-gallon batch. There was a certain deep complexity to the Roots Restaurant recipe (spicy bacon Bloody Mary themed with a pickle/horseradish topper) that may have been appreciated by certain discerning attendees, but many of the Top 5 leaders throughout the day often played to the comfort-related taste buds.
The Bhut Jolokia, also known in the west as the Ghost Pepper, rates a minimum 855,000 SHU. This recipe on Sunday luckily used it sparingly, yet upon first taste there was a flash sensation that struck immediately and spread like wildfire. In the end, B’NB may have ended up with second place to McBob’s as that eatery created an overall hot pot and warming sensation that more attendees were willing to try.
Another standout in the afternoon started on top of the leaderboard but ended up unheralded in all categories. At one point, the dish offered by the Irish Pub found the line extending all the way to the middle of the room. The sample cup was loaded with a very good chili, but was then topped by bits of whole avocado, fried onion and a syrupy chili pepper liquid that contributed to a unique flavor and texture experience. It may have been that tasters were looking for an overall value for their $1 sample. While this recipe is reported to not be part of the regular menu at the Water Street haunt, it should be added.
The disembodied voice of WMSE Station Manager Tom Crawford haunted the room as the host wandered the open space with a wireless microphone. When I finally hunted him down in the capacity crowd, the first thing I asked him was “So, is the Bradley Center next?”
Tom laughed in acknowledgment, saying “Probably … probably. It’s absolutely incredible to conceivably outgrow the Kern Center, the basketball arena at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, you know?”
I also asked if there was any common thread to what people remark to him while at the event.
“They say incredible, awesome, thanks for making Milwaukee great,” Crawford said. “[They say] this is one of the reasons I love living here, love the radio station and the format … um, where’s the bathroom and where can I buy tickets. There some basic housekeeping stuff and then a lot of compliments.”