Congratulations are in order today to the Roanoke Valley Harley Owners Group.
They make some killer chili. It’s hot stuff in more ways than one.
You wouldn’t know this if you weren’t one of the 5,000 or so folks Saturday who made it down to Salem Avenue in downtown Roanoke for the 32nd annual Virginia State Championship Chili Cook-Off.
The popular event is a fundraiser for Greenvale School, a nonprofit daycare center in Northwest Roanoke that serves working families. Jenny Lee, the school’s development director, estimated Greenvale raised at least $30,000 through the event.
Among 27 cook teams who chopped, browned, seasoned and stirred up hundreds of gallons of spicy meat stew and salsa, the HOG’s White Knuckle Chili took top honors in the blind-judging competition for the red chili category.
The HOGs also claimed the People’s Choice Award (they’ve won that 11 years running), which means they got the most votes by folks who attended the event.
The coveted judged title carries a $1,000 prize and entry into the World’s Championship Chili Cookoff, which is kind of like the Academy Awards of one-pot cooking
Chuckle at that redneck-chef notion if you like. But this is a serious business, overseen by the International Chili Society, which dates back to the late 1960s and claims to be the world’s largest food competition/festival sanctioning organization.
Its members’ passion for spicy meat stew is as blistering hot as the infamous “ghost chili,” reputedly the most fiery pepper on Earth.
The cooks who showed up at the Railside Plaza early Saturday morning do not take their chili lightly. The HOG group, for example, invested hundreds of hours of labor by 40 to 50 people (they started prepping the night before) and $500 in ingredients and supplies to turn out 40 gallons of chili.
For that reason, the judges’ work is a serious and solemn endeavor governed by detailed rules issued by the ICS.
The judging process unfolds in secret, in a quiet building around the corner from the music, long lines and other chili-gobbling melee.
The team I served on judged the preliminary round for beanless red chili, and we entered the building yukking it up. But soon we were set straight by Chief Scorekeeper Mary Beth Monroe, who has 30 years experience in this business.
“This is serious!” she admonished us, noting the investment of time and money by each cook team. And then she proceeded to run down the dos and don’ts of judging chili.
The number one rule: no talking about the chili as you taste it. Another one: look for a late burn in the back of your throat. Seasonings varied widely by pot and ran the gamut from scalp-drenchingly hot to faint hints of cinnamon and clove.
We prelim judges narrowed the field to the best 10 pots. Then an entirely different crew of judges picked the first, second and third places, based on total points awarded.
My personal favorite turned out to be Three Mile Chile, prepared by Bob Kelley of Richmond. He placed 7th overall in the red chili rankings.
Saturday’s competition was the fourth time the Roanoke Valley Harley Owners Group won the big prize in 23 years of competing.
Club Director Mark Reed said they used 14 different ingredients. The only one he was willing to name is cumin, which is about as common in chili as water is in beer. Their recipe is closely guarded in a secret compartment in an unnamed member’s wallet, Reed said.
He was unsure Monday whether the HOGS would compete in the World‘s Championship Chili Cookoff, which is in Manchester, N.H. in October.
Twice previously the HOGS have taken their champion Virginia chili to the world finals. In 2004 they went to Las Vegas and in 2009 they competed in Charleston, W.Va.
But judges at that competition “really do not like our chili,” Reed told me. “They think it’s too meaty, with too many vegetables. Their idea of chili is kind of like a runny hot-dog chili.”
You know what that means.
It sounds like Texas Tavern (which did not enter its “chile”) might actually have a chance.
32nd Annual Virgina State Championship Chili Cook-Off, winners
- 1st Place: Mark Reed/Roanoke Valley Harley Owner’s Group. Prize:$1,000, a trophy and the ability to advance to the World’s Championship Chili Cook-Off in Manchester, NH Sept. 30 – October 2
- 2nd Place: Domino Ireland/The Sleepless KNERDS, Raleigh, N.C. Prize: $250 and a trophy
- 3rd Place: Dan Bauer: “Cowboy Chili Too,” Alexandria, Va. Prize: $100 and a trophy
Verde (green) Chili:
- 1st Place: Houston Boone/Ebony & Ivory Chili Squad, Fishersville, Va. Prize: $150, a trophy and the ability to advance to the WCCC in September
- 2nd Place: Rob Daugherty/Verde-licious! Richmond, Va. Prize: Trophy
- 3rd Place: Domino Ireland/The Sleepless KNERDS, Raleigh, N.C. Prize: Trophy
- 1st Place: Domino Ireland/The Sleepless KNERDS, Raleigh, N.C. Prize: $50 and a trophy
- 2nd Place: Spence Robertson/ Po’ Joe’s Chili, Roanoke. Prize: Trophy
- 3rd Place: Charlie Whitescarver/Thai Won Awn Chili, Christiansburg. Prize: Trophy
People’s Choice Chili:
- First Place: Mark Reed/Roanoke Valley Harley Owner’s Group, Roanoke. Prize: $100 and a trophy
- Second Place: Marcus Thompson/Volvo Truck Chili & Waffles, Dublin. Prize: Trophy