It may have been the biggest social event in San Miguel history. Definitely the biggest I’ve ever been to.
It began the first or second year I started spending my winters in San Miguel. And it just kept getting bigger. I couldn’t get an official number as to how many were there that last big year, number six of the annual events. Some people say 1,000. I say 2,000. And someone else told me 3,000. It was 2012 and Don Day’s Wife was not only there, she bought the t-shirt.
And wow the event was big. I met people who’d come from as far as Texas and New Mexico and Louisiana, and more from Texas, and even more from Texas. And they were even more competitive than I am (and, until then, I wasn’t even sure such a person even lived on this earth).
I ate the best chili I’d ever tasted and I drank a lot of beer and a considerable amount of tequila. I know, because, when I drink, I dance and my knees were crying the next morning.
And then the Chili Cook-Off almost disappeared. And no one quite understood why. I played investigative reporter and asked why, but no one could give me answers or would give me answers. I asked again just last week and I still couldn’t get a good answer.
I said it almost disappeared but not quite. Noren Caceres and Jerry Harper kept it alive. Because I think that Noren and Jerry had the same kind of passion for the Chili Cook-Off that I did.
Noren and Jerry are the back and front of the restaurant La Frontera and they hosted a mini Chili Cook-off for the last three years. I liked their mini event. It was cozy. It was friendly. It was comfortable. It included just about every country artist in town who’d ever swung a guitar strap over their shoulders. And, with much fewer contestants, you could actually remember whose chili you’d tasted and whose chili was best.
I asked Noren Caceres if La Frontera was still considering hosting their own cook-off.
“We’ve had quite a few customers and Chili Cook-off participants asking if we were going to do the cook-off despite the other one being held, since everyone had such a great time at the three that we held,” said Noren. “Of course we haven’t considered it, one is enough…really, how many chili cook-offs does one town need…and I’m sure everyone will enjoy this cook-off as well.”
And will Noren (who makes some mighty fine chili herself) be competing this year?
“I don’t think we’ll be entering, would love to, but just too much is going on since it’s the day before the Super Bowl and we’ll be preparing for a Super Bowl Party and making chili for that.”
Last week I met with Marcelo Castro Vera who’s heading up the renaissance of the big event. Marcelo used to run the Hotel Real de Minas, the hotel that used to host (but not organize) Chili Cook-Off. These days, he runs BocAbierta and manages Tinto Bajio, the festival of Mexican wines; 3 Delicias, the cheese, bread and wine market; Picnic 100, the showcase of artisanal products from within a 100 mile radius and now, Chili Cook-Off. This year, the event is not being held at the hotel, but in the school grounds at Centro Cultural Allende.
I asked Marcelo what we could expect from the 2016 edition.
“We want to start small and get our feet wet”, he told me.
“And how big is small?”, I asked him.
“We’re thinking of no less than 1,000 people but it could become 2000 so we’re trying to be ready for that,” Marcelo continued. “We’ll have 40 booths with grills and tanks available. 28 are already confirmed.”
“Next year we hope to be sanctioned by the ICS with the winner going to the World’s Championship. As soon as we get this one under our belt, we’ll start working on 2017. Keith Thompson, who a lot of people will know from the Longhorn, is helping us bring back some of the original sponsors.”
Big time chili competition is obviously back in San Miguel. Maybe not quite yet with the credibility it once had but with aspirations to be even bigger and better. You may have already seen the ads in the local media. You may have seen the posters going up all over town. You may have already been handed a flyer.
I asked Paulina Padilla who works with Marcelo Castro for some more details and found that the rules are really straightforward. You can make your chile with or without beans. You can make a meat or a veggie version. Beef, pork, lamb, bison, chicken and turkey are all approved and they may be cut, shredded or ground to any size. Pasta and rice are forbidden. And, thank goodness…or should that be badness, so is MSG.
The competition for best chili won’t be the only one, there are also prizes for the best margarita (good luck judging the ninth one) and for the best Western duds (shine up those Fryes). And, just like the old days, there will be lots of live music including an appearance by Pila Seca.
I asked Marcelo Castro if he’d been able to sign up any San Miguel restaurants yet.
“I think we’ll have The Restaurant, Sierra Nevada, maybe La Canica and quite a few more”, Marcelo said. “Zumo is already in.”
I later emailed Stewart Haverlack at Zumo to ask him his strategy for winning the Cook-Off.
“With a dynamite recipe including mezcal, artisanal beer from SMA and plenty of chilis, Team ZUMO is ready! We will take no prisoners!”, Stewart replied.
I’ve already got my tickets (they’re 50 pesos cheaper if bought in advance) and I’m picking up the Rolaids, Tums and Beano tomorrow.
See you there?
Chili Cook-Off will be held in the school gardens at Centro Cultural Allende (part of the Instituto) in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico on February 6, 2016. Start time is 12 Noon. Advance tickets can be purchased at Solutions, Recreo #11 and Mesones #57 or at La Victoriana, Hernandez Macias #72 for $100 or purchased at the door for $150. If you’re interested in participating in the Chili Cook-Off competition (and as a guy who’s been in cook-offs I say go for it) email Paulina Padilla at firstname.lastname@example.org for the rules and registration form.