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Competitive chili makes beans serious business

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The chefs from Loews at Lake Las Vegas whipped up a Mediterranean style chili with lamb and tzatziki sauce.
Photo: Allison Duck

Beans, meat and a few chili peppers can do wonders. On Saturday the International Chili Society sponsored the Sonrisa Grill Inaugural Chili Cook Off to benefit Green Valley High School and Lake Mead Christian Academy, held at MonteLago Village at Lake Las Vegas. It was worth the drive to the outskirts of town for a sampling of the best that local chili cooks had to offer.

Set up under white tents, restaurant chefs and unaffiliated chili devotees spooned out samples of chili verde, lamb chili, chicken chili, white chili and classic chili to a crowd of tasters who spooned and assessed as they bounced from booth to booth.

Inaugural Sonrisa Grill Chili Cook Off @ Lake Las Vegas

Michael McAfee of Line Shack Chili had an interesting photo collage in front of his booth, and related his team’s sad story. The collage was made up of photos of Carl and his father, Pop Baker, two competitive chili veterans that had been on the circuit for 25 years.

“Pop died the day before his birthday (January 22), just before his 89th birthday, and his son Carl had cancer and passed away just before that.”

McAfee, of Bullhead City, Ariz., had been helping the Bakers at chili competitions for years and decided to carry on their traditions and bring their award-winning chili recipe to the Lake Las Vegas competition. McAfee said the Bakers, “won between 80 and 100 trophies. They have been to the World Championships six or seven times. They finished fourth one year.”

Many of Lake Las Vegas’ own restaurants sponsored booths at the competition. The team from Loews restaurant put a Mediterranean spin on chili, using lamb instead the of more traditional beef or pork, and garnishing their dish with a cucumber mint tzatziki sauce in lieu of cheese and onions. The chefs from the Ritz Carlton produced a spicy red chili that drew in a long line of tasters.

In the white chili department Chef Josh Clark of Sunset and Vines churned out pot after pot of a delicious chicken and white bean chili. He seemed the best prepared for the larger than anticipated crowds and was one of the only chefs still serving the hungry masses after the judging began.

Chef Billy Joe, caterer and executive chef at the local Omelet House restaurants, made my favorite chili of the day. One of the only chefs to offer a garnish bar with diced onions, shredded cheese and sour cream, his product was delicious on its own as well.

“Today I had a day off, so I thought I would try a chili contest. This is my first competition. I ran out of chili, six whole gallons of chili served one ounce at a time. Some people were back for sixths and sevenths.”

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