By Tana Kosiyabong
Last Sunday, I went to the Gastown Blues & Chili 2009. Twenty restaurants in the neighborhood were competing for bragging rights that come with having the best Chili in Gastown. The event was held from noon to 7 pm at the 200 block of Abbot Street as a fundraising event for the Girls Rock Camp Vancouver. Though I’m not sure why they played Blues to raise money for the rock camp, I think Blues and Chili are great together.
Some say chili gives you gas. If this is true, Gastown could’ve been in grave danger. Hundreds of visitor simultaneously releasing massive amounts of gas near the travel stoves could potentially blow the entire neighborhood to the ground. A better case scenario would leave Gastown stinky for weeks.
The event was free admission but visitors had to purchase tickets for Chili samples. The tickets were priced to sell; $1 for a 2 oz cup, $3 for an 8 oz bowl and $15 for 2 oz samples from every contestant. All I had in my pants pocket were $9 and some change. So, nine tickets it was.
The inclusive ticket was a good idea in theory, but not very practical. Less than two hours into it, some contestants were running out of their chilies. By 3 pm, all but a couple of contestants still had some left. Though the ticket station had stopped selling the inclusive ticket before then, I’m not sure how many visitors were unable to use their tickets to the max.
The event was small enough to be contained in one street block, but it was packed with twenty yummy looking chilies. It was difficult to pick, but eventually I went for a 2 oz cup from the Revel Room. Their chili ingredients included 5 kinds of chili peppers (Aji, Habernero, Chipotle, Guajillo, and Pasilla), coffee spice rub and sirloin tip. It was good right off the bat. The chili was moderately spicy. I loved the chunks of sirloin tip a lot. I was, however, having a hard time take pictures of a tiny cup in my left hand.
Then I moved on to the Chill Winston booth. I got the last bit they could scrape out from the bottom of the pot. This chili is better described as Jamaican Jerk Sloppy Joes. I think it was pretty good but I wish it were even spicier.
The next one was the Gastown Fire House. The firefighters may lack heat in their chili, but many female visitors may disagree. At this point I had had enough of taking photos of these tiny cups I decided to go for the 8 oz bowls instead.
Now it came down to the two big purchases. I felt like I was playing Russian roulette with my money. One unlucky turn and my three dollars went down the drain. Eventually, I chose the Triple Pork and Pineapple chili from Cobre restaurant because I liked the plastic skulls they displayed at their booth.
At first, the Cobre chili was a bit too bland to be named “Chili.” But once I stirred in the fresh, finely chopped onion, cilantro and jalapeno pepper garnished on top, the chili had transformed itself from the ugly stepsister into the beautiful Cinderella of chili. The fresh scent of the cilantro and the spiciness of the jalapeno pepper gave this chili a new life. Chopped onions added extra dimension to the overall texture. Cobre suddenly became the front-runner in my mind.
According to the chef, Cobre chili was made with 3 types of Kurabata (not sure if it’s an alternative pronunciation of Kurobuta) pork – jowl, double smoke bacon, and ground pork. Other ingredients included 5 kinds of dried chili and 2 kinds of fresh chili (on the topping garnish), Walla Walla sweet onions and heirloom tomatoes.
My last chili of the day was the 3 Odd Balls Chili from Wild Rice restaurant. It was made with 3 different meatballs – bison, pork and lamb. The bison balls were flavored with chipotle, roast garlic and cilantro. The pork balls got ginger, scallions and miso. And the lamb balls got shallots, mustard and thyme. It was the Asian, Mexican and Mediterranean melting pot. Other ingredients were white and black beans, charred corn, shitake, cremini, and oyster mushrooms.
Wild Rice’s chili had the most complex flavor profile of all the chili I had tasted that day. It sounded really good on the paper, but fell flat in practice. The chili was actually a mild stew. The flavor profile was too complex for a 2 oz sample. Even with the 8 oz one, I still didn’t feel like trying to identify each and every flavor hidden within this dish. Well… not when I was eating on the street anyway. Wild Rice’s chili would be better off in their upscale restaurant setting.
One thing I really liked about the 3 Odd Ball Chili was that you never knew which meatball you’re gonna bite into next.
After I was done with the food, I came across the voting station where visitors could vote for the People’s Choice Award. There was a monitor displaying how well each contestant did in comparison to the others. “Damn it! If I would have seen this monitor earlier, I wouldn’t have had to play ‘Chili roulette’ all day,” I thought to myself.
At around 3:30pm, the host announced the People’s choice award. The winner was Chill Winston, and tied in second place were Diamond and Revel Room. The Judges’ choice award winner was Deacon’s Corners. The runner-ups were the Alibi Room and Irish Heather. My favorite, Cobre, didn’t even make the top 3.
Fortunately, no tragedy had happened that day. Chili does not give you gas. The undercooked beans do. According to Wikipedia, Chili purists believe that beans do not belong in Chili. In fact, most official chili cook offs do not allow beans. For me, chili definitely has another side effect. It made me feel comforted and mellow. Three hours of food and fun for nine dollars. What more could I asked for?
©2009 Tana Kosiyabong and CheapAppetite.com™. All rights reserved.