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Journals of an
Insane Genius -- October 1998
It is Autumn and my thoughts turn to chili. There is a tradition where I work that we have a costume contest and chili cookoff every Halloween. Immediately the Holy Wars begin, to define what is the one true chili.
To add beans or not to add beans, that is the question. I had an interesting discussion this week with my friend John, a man of impeccable credentials when it comes to chili. One of my many shortcomings is that I lack a true commitment to friendship (demonstrated by Ms. Linda Tripp), so I don't record all of my conversations for future reference. Therefore I'll have to paraphrase John's dissertation on chili. He advanced that argument that "Real Chili" does not have beans. He says you're perfectly free to add beans to your recipe if that's what makes you happy, but you then have some kind of chili derivative and not "Real Chili". John also provided a historical reference, pointing out that the initial development of recipes for "Real Chili" was driven by the desire of frontier settlers to prepare rancid meat (the only thing left to eat) in such a manner as to disguise the fact that the meat was rancid. If they had beans they would have eaten them instead of the rancid meat.
My view is slightly more tolerant than John's. I believe that whatever you have the guts to label as chili becomes chili. During last year's competition we had twenty crockpots simmering away and no two contained an identical chili. There were numerous entries that were unlike any chili I had ever seen including "Roo Stew" (chili with an Australian flair), "Roadkill Helper" (no further description required), and whatever that stuff was that contained eggplant for crying out loud. Also, historians have never forgotten (or forgiven) that it was John that gave life to a substance known as "Chili Grits" in a chili cookoff that pre-dates the current Halloween competitions. So my opinion is that you really need to consider your whole chili philosophy and create a dish that is consistent with your beliefs.
My own chili philosophy is somewhat existential (if a bowl of my chili is spicy enough to cause a tree in the forest to burst into flames and fall over, would the sound be louder than the sound of one hand clapping?). But in the final analysis I have decided that anyone that claims that my chili is not "Real Chili" and theirs is had better be willing to back up their claim by proving that their chili recipe uses rancid meat, the historical base of "Real Chili".
My chief competition appears to come from a young lady named Karen and her "Killer Chili". I contracted a private investigator to research the validity of this claim. Although records of her past are spotty at best, no one has actually died as a result of consuming the alleged chili. There is however a restraining order in effect preventing Karen from bringing her chili within 75 yards of any Wiener Schnitzel franchise. All you have to do is look at the vacant lot next to Atlas furniture on Garden avenue to see the results from the last time she violated this order. Perhaps "Unrestrained Chili" would be a more appropriate name.
I must also contend with last year's winning entry, Jan's "Million Dollar Chili". Once again, an investigation seemed called for. I contacted Kenny Starr's office. It soon became apparent that although the money trail was more difficult to trace through than the Democratic National Committee's fundraising records, Jan had spent only a mere $26.95 on research and development of her recipe. But since Starr's office spent over a million dollars to locate a chili stained dress and a handful of grocery store receipts, it seems like the name may now be justified.
My friend Linda is entering something called "Red Eye" chili. I was trying to remember where I had heard the expression "Red Eye" before and then it hit me, Jeff Foxworthy. I will not go into great detail here, but in his book, "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem", Jeff describes a sport that he and his high school buddies used to enjoy that was known as "mooning". Well according to Jeff, the grand daddy of all moons was known as the old "Red Eye". Hmmm... I'm not sure if I have the guts to try her chili anymore.
A former neighbor, Gary, has also entered the chili contest, and as a result he may just sneak by me in the costume contest. As it turns out the combination of soil conditions in his garden lead to some unanticipated properties in the vegetables he grows there. You can't make a decent batch of chili out of them, and if you try you will instead wind up synthesizing a batch of home made Prozac. Gary tasted his creation and was inspired to dress up as Buddha. I can not compete with this, and can only hope that the effect wears off before the contest.
I prepare a delightfully wicked dish called "Guatemalan Insanity Chili". The lure of Guatemalan Insanity Chili is that even though it is too hot to eat without injury it tastes so good that you can't help yourself. It is called Guatemalan Insanity Chili because the recipe was developed by the inmates of an insane asylum located deep in the steaming jungles of Guatemala. Please do not speculate as to how I managed to obtain a copy.