Thursday, November 12, 2009

Feeling hot! hot! hot! Chili Takedown returns

By Meredith Deliso

One of the hottest cook-offs, thanks in part to its ingredients, returns to Brooklyn this month.

On Nov. 22, the Chili Takedown, an amateur cooking competition featuring the Texan delicacy, comes to Gowanus’ Bell House (which, with previous cook-offs devoted to chocolate and guacamole, as well as this month’s Brooklyn Beefsteak, has become quite the foodie-friendly venue).

Producer Matt Timms got into chili culture by just feeding it to his friends when they came over to his Williamsburg apartment. Soon, those dinners led to events in bars, and since holding the first Chili Takedown in Bar Matchless in Greenpoint five years ago, it’s gotten bigger every year, with other chili cook-offs cropping up in Brooklyn as well. In addition to the Chili Takedown, there are other contests where you can break out the slow cooker, including the Brooklyn Underground Chili Extravaganza Chili Cookoff at Barcade earlier this month, Park Slope’s PS 107’s chili contest last month, and the Chili Smackdown in Sheepshead Bay this past summer.

The Chili Takedown itself is part of a growing empire of cook-offs, with forays into lamb, curry, fondue, salsa, bacon, tofu and even cookies here, and chili and bacon takedowns in cities across the country.

Despite the growing popularity of these competitions, Timms likes to keep it low-key.

“I’m trying to bring it down a notch,” says Timms. “I don’t think it needs to be so big that people are stuck in line forever. It’s a party ultimately.”

That doesn’t mean the amateur chefs aren’t serious about their chili. “It can be a real science for some people,” says Timms, who will have 28 amateur chefs competing, with judges from the Brooklyn food community awarding the winner, as well as a pick for people’s choice.

Last year’s judges’ pick, “Pam Brown White Chili,” made by Park Slope’s Anne Garrett and Katie Feola, had lots of garlic, onions, jalapenos, and roasted poblanos central to the recipe, as well as Great Northern white beans, chicken and green chilies.

“After the first time we made the white bean chili, Katie suggested we enter the Chili Takedown. I thought it was a crazy, potentially terrible idea,” says Garrett, who, along with Feola, had never competed in a cooking contest before. “Entering a cooking competition was such an unexpected thing for us to do that when we won, the response from everyone who knows us, including ourselves, was total disbelief followed by hysterical laughter.”

Now, the pair are two-for-two, after winning this past fall’s Chile Pepper Fiesta Chocolate & Chile Takedown at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for their bread pudding recipe.

“We spent about two months working on that recipe, so we’re a little burnt out. (But) we’ll be attending the Chili Takedown though to rally support for our friend who is entering her first Takedown,” said Feola, who’s also looking forward to a forthcoming Cookie Takedown next month organized by, of course, Timms.

With last year’s winners taking a backseat, it’s definitely anyone’s game this Nov. 22, especially given the competition’s one rule — there are no rules.

“Anything is possible,” says Timms. “It’s about the construction and the craftsmanship.”

And, of course, the chili.

The Brooklyn Chili Takedown is Nov. 22 at the Bell House (149 7th St.) at 4 p.m. While the competitor list is closed, you can still get on the waiting list. For those looking to eat, it’s $15 to sample the recipes. For more information, call 718-643-6510.


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