I like the idea of food events, but I rarely like the actual events.
So many of them pump out reception-quality food from normally excellent restaurants, so focused on marketing to a walk-through audience that they end up losing not only the restaurants' real identities, but the sense of community that truly makes a group meal great. So when events like last weekend's Banook Canoe Club's Annual Chili Cook-off come up, you can't help but feel the charm in the simplicity behind it.
This are the type of event that---while it might not be building the bottom line of any particular foodservice organization---is at the true heart of our local food culture. More than any conference centre filled with generic displays of sushi and sliders, an event where food from everyone from chefs to real estate agents to mothers and fathers, are put out to share in a community hall is a true display of local flavours and differing perspectives. And the only thing that would be more Maritime-y than a crib competition and chili cook-off at a rowing club would be swapping out chili for chowder.
One of the chefs that participated last weekend was Renée Lavallée, the Feisty Chef, who brought a real connection to her community to the table. "I do the chili cook-off because I love the social aspect of it," says Lavallée. As a professional chef, she's no stranger to events that range from marketing tools to community celebrations. "It's nice to get together with friends and have a friendly competition. And [this event is] good for Banook Canoe Club; it's one of our fundraisers and, as a member, that's great." Her other reason: "I like chili."
With a new restaurant opening next month focusing on simple cuisine---soups, sandwiches, and if we're lucky, chili--- Lavallée will bring more of that community spirit to downtown Dartmouth with The Canteen. Until then, she shares her secret to great chili. "What makes a good chili?" says Lavallée. "Love, spice, heat and meat.
"What makes a great chili? All those extra secrets like chipotle peppers, good smoked paprika, fresh herbs, lime. And time."
Serves four to six hungry men
3 lbs ground pork
3 lbs ground beef
1 onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 jalapeno peppers, diced (seeds in)
2 green peppers, diced
1 red pepper, diced
4 ribs of celery, diced
1 can tomatillo, crushed
1 can of GOOD tomatoes, crushed
1 small can tomato paste
3 cans white beans, drained
3 chipotle in adobo sauce, chopped
juice of two limes
one bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
liberal amounts of:
ground chili powder
Saute the onions, garlic, peppers, celery until soft. Add the meat and brown. Add the spices and cook for two to three minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook for four minutes. Add tomatoes and tomatillos. Check for seasoning and simmer over medium for one hour. Add half the chopped cilantro and the lime juice. Add chipotle, and the beans. Simmer for another hour and taste. Adjust seasoning if needed. Add the rest of the cilantro to the chili before serving.