Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sundays with Steve - Cooking to Win!

These Sunday's segments are written by my husband, Mr. Jenny. Here's what he has to say about his posts:

I’ve been writing these weekly stories about life in Northern Idaho, as a youngster and as growing into a young man, primarily for our family. And I'm delighted to share them with you. Just between us, I’m anticipating being cranky when some whipper-snapper who may not even be born yet harasses me in 30 years or so with 'Grandpa, tell me about when you were a boy.' That will probably be after the mad cow disease has set in and erased whatever memory is left. So these are the not-so-dramatic adventures of a Baby Boomer in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Cooking to Win!

I’m not much of a cook, never have been, which is maybe why I thought I could enter a local cook-off ... and actually win.

My good friend, Ed Griffith, lived just a couple of doors down in our quiet, rural subdivision in Eagle, Idaho. We both spent many years in North Idaho where we became friends, and we arrived in Eagle from different directions and with different career paths. It was happenstance, maybe fate in 1981, that landed us just two doors apart; I was moving back to the Boise –Eagle area from Montana, and he had moved the 300 miles from North Idaho the previous year. We did not know we were becoming neighbors until I called him, to tell him the news that we were moving to Eagle.

For a number of years, another neighbor and I would take our small children around our neighborhood on Halloween, trick or treating the 60 or so houses that made up our subdivision. The wives would go ahead to our last stop, with food and treats. The last stop was always at the Griffith’s, where Ed and his wife Bonnie would spend the day making a delicious chili to feed those of us who had braved the ghosts and goblins. Halloween would end there, with the kids inventorying and sampling their take of candy for the night, and the adults enjoying a feast.

Once or twice a year Ed would go hunting out in the wilds of Idaho, and typically come back with deer or elk meat. The elk meat became the prime ingredient in his chili.

One year after Ed had demonstrated his culinary skills once more -- that time by incinerating a whole pig to just a few bits of charred carbon, a pig that had been buried in the ground for 18 hours or so over too hot coals -- we decided we should enter his excellent chili in a local cook-off that was coming up in June.

We couldn’t imagine that anyone could craft a better tasting chili than Ed’s elk meat creation, a savory mix of meat, beans, tomatoes, onions, and heavy spices. We spent several weeks perfecting the receipt, cooking it each weekend until we were fully satisfied that it was unbeatable. Oh, did I mention the bourbon? That was a key ingredient as well, usually for the cooks, and it probably contributed to our culinary confidence.

The big weekend came. It was Eagle Fun Days, which I have told you about in these stories earlier, an annual local celebration that brought thousands to our little town for a fireman’s parade, street dances, the Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed, and that year, a chili cook-off.

The rules allowed us to pre-chop the ingredients, but not to pre-cook anything. We spent Friday evening chopping the elk meat, the tomatoes and the onions, and assembling the other ingredients in boxes. And maybe sampling the bourbon, just a touch, you know, to be sure it tasted right.

By eight Saturday morning we showed-up at the cook-off site, a parking lot at the main intersection (there was only one, then) of town. We set up two gas camp stoves, and began browning our ingredients in two large skillets. We anticipated giving samples of the chili to several hundred people, so we were making a full five gallons of the stuff.

Our cooking was proceeding fine by nine, when an inspector from the State Department of Health stopped by to look at our food handler’s licenses, and our public restaurant license. Our what??? He was only kidding, he said as I tried to recover from my heart attack, but he did show us how to properly wash utensils and anything that came in contact with the food.

With our chili simmering nicely, we strolled through the competitor’s tents to see how they were fairing. We knew most of the competitors, and saw that it was a friendly affair. We were not anticipating any dirty tricks. The competitors were very conventional in their ingredients, and I knew we had this competition in the bag.

The judging was at eleven, and the last hour was frantic as we stirred in the final ingredients and worked the seasoning so that it was just right – not too hot, but not tame, either, and not to over-power the distinct and delicious flavor of the wild elk meat.

The public started through the tents, and each person received a small Dixie Cup of chili to sample. I think each had to buy a five dollar ticket for the privilege of tasting our incredible creation, plus samples of the slop our competitors obviously threw together at the last minute, without the weeks and months of planning that Ed and I put into the task. Our kitchen was first in the tasting line, so we received universal praise from most of the people coming through the line. Some didn’t voice an opinion of our chili, and some grimaced just a touch. That may have been a hint. Each person then voted on the best chili at the end of the tasting line.

The three judges came through the line along with the public, made polite chewing sounds, and moved on.

By noon, and just before the fireman’s parade was scheduled to start, we had closed the sample line and began cleaning up our cooking areas. The judges called out to gather around for the long awaited announcement.

“And the winners are,” said the head judge, an obvious New York City transplant who had never tasted wild game in his entire, pathetic little life, “First, thanks to everyone who participated...” blah, blah, blah, come on now, get on it with. There were five teams, and we were sure we had won first place.

“Now,” said the obviously ignorant judge who wouldn’t know a rattle snake from a milk cow, “The public and the judges’ ballots are identical, we all agree.”

Public ballots are the same? Who are these morons, anyway? Transplants from Los Angeles and San Francisco and Seattle who have invaded our little corner of paradise, for whom someone had published the bumper stick as early as 1965 saying ‘Don’t Californicate Idaho’, immigrants from the Coast coming to the wilderness to seek a better life.

“In fifth and last place, with a unique western chili that was appreciated by all, is the team of Griffith- Matlock.” Excuse me? Last place? What?

In the end, we were big boys and gracious in our defeat at the hands of these outsiders, these know-nothings, these, these, these.... not that I was bitter mind you, but really, who in their right Idaho mind wouldn’t prefer elk?

Or maybe, just maybe, just the slight outside chance, the ever-so-nil possibility, that the elk chili was close to horrendous? Maybe.

(c) 2010 Stephen J. MatlockThis publication is the exclusive property of Stephen J. Matlock and is protectedunder the US Copyright Act of 1976 and all other applicable international, federal, state and local laws. The contents of this post/story may not be reproduced as a whole or in part, by any means whatsoever, without consent of the author, Stephen J. Matlock. All rights reserved.


Ms. A said...

Horrendous? Hahaha, at least you were gracious in defeat!

Nezzy (Cow Patty Surprise) said...

Well obviously the judges had no 'taste'! Hehehehe!

Great read Mr. Jenny!

God bless and enjoy what's left of your weekend!!! :o)

"Cottage By The Sea" said...

Mr. Jenny,
I just popped in to read your wife's blog and saw this. LOVE it. You've probably been told before that you are a crack up. Also, I have relatives in Kuna, ID. I got lost there once for 2 days. Shoot those are long lonely roads. Regarding your Elk chili. I was always told that if you put enough sauce over "game" it would taste just like chicken? I love chicken chili so I would have voted for yours hands down. In Idaho I can see how Elk chili may fly. I left California for Idaho (to seek a better life in the wilderness) but Elk chili was one of the things that made me come running back to the coast. Say hi to Jenny for me. Blessings, Tia

Pondside said...

Elk Chili - just trying to imagine it. My dad would probably say it is the sort of food that would 'put hair on your chest' to which we three girls would just say 'ewwwww'!