Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Kalamazoo Chili Cook-Off

On Friday, I was chilling at my boyfriend's house, browsing the internet, and decided to search downtown Kalamazoo's website to see if there were any events going on that weekend.
And boy did I hit the jackpot. That Saturday was the ending of Kalamazoo Beer Week, the beginning of Kalamazoo Restaurant Week, and the day of the annual Kalamazoo Chili Cook-Off.

Can you say YES PLEASE??
What intrigued me most out of all three was the Chili Cook-Off. I'd never been to one before, and Kalamazoo's is massive. From 11:30-1:30, 35 locations downtown, some retail and some restaurants, would be serving up 2 oz servings of their most decadent and delicious chili and vying for first prize.
If you do the math, that's 70 oz of chili.
And according to my calculations, that was where I needed to be on Saturday.
So my boyfriend and I headed downtown and started our trek through the city.
The coordinators were nice enough to hand out these Chili Passports so that participants could find their way to all participating locations.

We started out on Kalamazoo Mall at Sticks and Stones.

The chili was mild and beefy. Good, but I was hungry for more.
So we moved across the street to Baird, whose lengthy line evidenced a tasty sample.

Their white bean and turkey chili was creamy, flavorful, and topped with cheese. What's not to love?
Next, we walked down aways and happened upon Taco Bob's. I was eager to see what kinds of spicy robust flavors a mexican restaurant would put in their chili, so we got in line.

After the first bite, I knew I'd underestimated Taco Bob's. This was easily the spiciest chili I've ever eaten. I found a few jalapeno seeds floating in my cup, so I think I know why....
While some more adventurous eaters gobbled up the chili, the trash can next to Taco Bob's was full of uneaten chili cups, so I'm assuming that most people found it too spicy to finish.
Next door, Garden Gate Cafe had a lengthy line, so we popped in to see what all the fuss was about.

I tried the veggie chili, which was naturally sweetened by corn and a lighter alternative to heavy meat chili.
At that point, I went on a hunt to find Nature Connection, the retail store that had dominated the cook-off by placing nearly every year. I wanted to see what made their recipe so special.

This place definitely had the most options, featuring a turkey chili, a beef chili, and a vegan chili (with vegan cheese as a topping).



I can say this much for Nature Connection, it was certainly a flavor I'd never tasted before in chili. Sweet, but not sugary-sweet. And when I got down to the end of the tasting table, I snuck a peak at their recipe card to see what the secret ingredient was.
An entire bottle of Cherry Republic Michigan Cherry Salsa.
Yup, that'll give it an interesting flavor.
Before I left, however, I walked across the arcade to a restaurant that was serving chili with barely any line.

Ahem, did you say wild boar? As in, a new and exotic flavor?
I'm in.

Needless to say, this chili packed a punch of flavor. Tons of spices, and the boar was the texture of ground beef, but with a much gamey-er flavor.
Out of all the ones I tried, this chili was my personal favorite. 

However, it was not the winner, nor did it place overall (which I believe is a testament to the fact that people need to get over their fears and try new things every once in awhile).
Instead, the winners were as follows:

People's Choice: Nature Connection
Retail:1. Nature Connection2. Tempo Vino Winery
3. Baird
1. Mangia Mangia
2. Zazios
3. The Union Cabaret & Grille

After the event, when I was looking for the winners, I was pleased to discover that the city of Kalamazoo puts together a giant PDF of (most of) the recipes featured during the cook-off.
Literally a foodie's DREAM. Particularly if you've been feeling the chill of this winter weather and been craving some hearty chili, as I have.
If any of these sounded good to you, check out the booklet online here.
I have plans to make Baird's white turkey chili later this week!

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