Eating-up Stratford
Bite by Byte

Friday, February 11, 2011

Chillin' at the Judges Table on Heartburn Day!

Competitions and challenges involving food and eating have become a bit of an unexpected theme here on The Local-Come-Lately:

There was the time I ate humble pie at the 

Then there was the infamous incident with 

A few weeks ago, Slow Food Perth County joined forces with Chef Shawn from Simple F&S 
to put together an incredible roasted garlic and potato soup for the soup-making-contest-fundraiser 

But the real confirmation I've paid my 'culinary competition dues' here in Stratford finally came when I was invited to be a food contest judge!


I was honoured to be accepted as a judge for the 24th Annual Orr Insurance Heartburn Day, a smokin' chili-making-contest fundraiser held every year (for almost a quarter century!) in support of the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation


I offered the organizers my full disclosure: there was a slight conflict of interest since Slow Food Perth County had our own entry in this year's contest. I recruited the culinary talents of Phil Phillips (above being stalked by a giant heart), who many might remember as one of Paul Finkelstein's high school prodigies featured on the Food Network's Fink (or more recently for his work alongside Chef Aaron Linley in the kitchen of Stratford's premier fine dining restaurant Bijou). He put together an absolutely killer chili using wild boar and heritage pork from Perth Pork Products combined with all sorts of beans as well as some really creative ingredients like hominy, roasted red pepper, chocolate and coffee! He even had a homemade tincture of Scotch Bonnet hot peppers (which he ominously administered out of a vial using an eye dropper) for those who were looking for some serious heat! 

But Rachel Smith, Heart and Stroke's coordinator of this spicy event, assured me that  this potential conflict of interest wasn't a problem: the judging was blind and not all judges would be rating all entries.


Judging was a challenge. You didn't want to go and give one tasty chili too high points in case another one came along that you thought was better! I judged nine of the 34 entries and found a couple that were through-the-roof amazing. I hunted them down after...


Not surprisingly, the most creative chili was from Chef Shawn from Simple Fish and Chips, whose Gone 'Local' Chili had local beans, bacon and ground beef as well as Erbcroft Farm's lamb and duck (that's right folks, lamb and duck). His entry might've been described as a spicy cassoulet. In true Chef Shawn fashion, he also brought a second Jerk Halibut Chili offering. I didn't get to judge it, but I tried it later... I would have given it a perfect score.


At the judges' table, everyone was passing around one sample that was above and beyond: it had this amazing sweetness to it at the beginning, and then you were gradually taken on a journey of heat that built into a raging inferno. I loved it, but needed a towel to wipe down my forehead after. I later discovered the kitchen responsible for this big n' bold creation was none other than the Pour House! Owner Joe Gilchrist (above, with event organizer Rachel Smith) proudly accepted the award for Best Chili by a Restaurant!


Some participants put a lot into their presentation, like the Stratford & Area Builders' Association (who won best display)...


...and the Superbowl-lovin' folks from Country Bulk Stratford, who I'm sure were hoping for some leftovers for the Packers-Steelers clash the following day. 


Fred and Wilma from Dave's Diner were serving up some hearty brontosaurus chili.


All the kids got to have fun climbing all over the Orr Insurance antique fire engine. 


Ultimately, however, it's not the judges' preferences that matter: the People's Choice is the most coveted award of the day. This year attendees voted for the Stratford United Church as 2011's best chili. One of the folks who came up to accept the award took the mic and proclaimed, "We were finished 8 gallons over an hour ago. One guy came up to us and asked, 'If I give you four tickets, can I lick the bottom of the crockpot?!?'"

Later that night at home, as I reflected upon my first experience as a cooking contest judge, I started to feel something creeping up in my chest. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, but there was no denying it: I had myself a serious case of heartburn!

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