Which celebrity chef has published a tell-all memoir? Who’s opened yet another high-priced restaurant? What’s the latest miracle fruit that Dr. Oz and Oprah are talking about? The newest cocktail trend?
Every day, I’m inundated with these e-mails and press releases. And while the information may be entertaining, it often feels a little empty. It’s always nice to escape to something more meaningful.
Take, for example, the event I judged on Thursday: the 2nd Annual TAP Head Start Chili Cook-off, sponsored by the Fathers & Families Fatherhood Program. For the second year in a row, folks from Head Start centers around Southwest Virginia battled it out in a good-natured contest to see who would take home a 1st, 2nd or 3rd place trophy and who would represent TAP Head Start in the Virginia State Championship Chili Cook-Off this summer.
I knew, because I judged the event at Lincoln Terrace last year, that I was in for an evening filled with friendly people, well-meaning trash talking, laughter and tasty grub. This year, the cook-off took place at the Raleigh Court Child Development Center, which used to be Raleigh Court Elementary School. The school was shuttered in February 2009, but a federal stimulus grant has since transformed it into a wonderful resource for Total Action Against Poverty’s Head Start and Head Start daycare programs.
Before the cook-off heated up, Head Start director Selena Childress-Mayo took me on a grand tour of the facility, proudly showing off spacious offices, a library for child care books and study, and multiple day care rooms filled with vividly colored toys, games and tiny little chairs. Some were filled with children, who played while their parents attended the cook-off.
What used to be the cafeteria was brightly decorated for the occasion with yellow chili pepper balloons, handmade signs, lights, cowboy hats and cowboy boots sprouting live cacti. Along one wall was a long table lined with 16 slow cookers filled with chili. Sixteen! I knew I was going to need some heartburn medicine.
When it was time, the judges began to taste the chili and score it on flavor, appearance, consistency, color and “bite,” or spice. Again this year, I was amazed by how much each tomato-based chili differed from the next. Some featured turkey, some ground beef, some bits of sirloin. Some had white beans and large chunks of tomato; others had mostly meat and a deep, burgundy sauce.
I could tell some folks experimented a little more this year. I think I detected chocolate in one batch. And I know that someone had a heavy hand with the jalapenos or hot sauce this year, because all of the judges started sweating, sucking down water and laying saltines on their tongues about the same time.
In the end, the winners were:
Third Place: Fairfield Head Start (chili maker: Monica Palmer)
Second Place: Jefferson Street Head Start (chili maker: Marlon Carter)
First Place: Indian Village Head Start (chili maker: Rodney McGeorge)
It was great to see some guys in the Fatherhood Program trying their hand at making chili (and winning!) and it was nice to see so many people pack that huge room for a good cause. The fellowship at that event is so warm and positive that I left with a big smile on my face and a glow inside (and it was from more than the jalapenos).
Good luck to TAP in the chili cook-off, and thanks for all the positive work in our community.