My agent gave me a heads up about the 2011 Brooklyn Chili Takedown yesterday and I was immediately smitten by founder Matt Timms’s assertion that “chili is a foul seductress, people” and that “this is a no rulez competition that says rules… are for Texans.” Much as I love a traditional Texas bowl of red, I have a soft spot for newfangled chili rebels and I’ve decided to feature the Takedown’s People’s Choice-winning recipe in my Chili Cook-Off in a Box.
Gina: So what’s your deal, Matt?
Matt: I’m an actor, a filmmaker, an artist, and a party promoter for my events at thetakedowns.com. I throw amazing parties and occasionally someone will cast me in something and I act all amazing, or I will shoot something amazing. I’m totally a self-taught cook–had to be in NYC–and I don’t give a truck about prochefs too much–I’ve had too much fun partying with home cooks like myself around the country.
Gina: How many food competitions have your thrown and what is your inspiration?
Matt: I guess I’ve thrown about 50-60 Takedowns over the years and across the country–been doing this for like a decade now!!! Chili, cookies, bacon, fondue, salsa takedowns–whatever. The inspiration was totally assed up boredom, especially when I was a starving actor when I first got to NYC. I have this unquenchable desire to party very hard to the point of an explosion!
Gina: What’s the structure of your chili contest? How many competitors?
Matt: Pretty simple! People line up and try each of the 25 chilies–they get a tasting cup of each–and then they vote on the yummiest! Judges do the same! Throughout the whole process, I play very brutal heavy music, which is important. Then there’s a big ol’ ceremony where the crowd meets the contestants, and the winners are named, awards given!
Gina: What’s the range of kinds of chili you expect people will enter?
Matt: I run a no-rules chili competition–because if you’re from NYC, the cowboys aren’t down with you anyway, so just have fun. I see veggie chilis, all the different meat chilis, and then people go bonkers off the map–candy chili, ice cream chili… stupid fun stuff.
Gina Who will judge the chili and what criteria will they use to judge it?
Matt: I get local food writers, bloggers, and food personages to come party, but the major prizes are the People’s Choice. I am the benevolant leader of a tyranical democracy!
Gina: Do you have any tips for chili cook-off competitors?
Matt: Use your imagination and come to have fun. Think of it like a party and not a competition. The whole idea of a food competition should be about partying. It’s a catalyst for hanging out. And a chance to show a wider audience how your food rips.
Gina: What do you think makes the difference between a good chili and a great one?
Matt: How much love you put in that shit. You can follow a recipe to a T and it could easily be meh. But people come to a Takedown to show everyone how insane their cooking skills are –and when you come with that attitude, you throw all your positive energy into that batch of chili, and people can taste it.
Gina: What sort of a space is the Bell House?
Matt: Bell House is a rock club, probably the best venue in NYC.
Gina: How many people do you expect to attend?
Matt: I keep it small. 200 is my magic number!
Gina: Why do you love chili?
Matt: My site was originally called chilitakedown.com–I was only throwing chili parties because they are the raddest. Basically chili is the most important food group if you are starving. You can make a huge pot of it, keep it in the fridge all week–and the best part is, it only get better and better over the week as the flavors wed! So when your friends ask you to join them at some re$taurant, you can say naw man I just ate. And you can put all of that money into drinking.
I used to be a card-carrying member of the ICS (International Chili Society) and loved it, but the rules are pretty serious. Meat has to be rough ground or cut into 1/2 in. or smaller cubes, no visible seasoning, spoon has to stand horizontally and fall slowly for best texture, blah blah blah. And ask any Texan, they’ll tell you about “no beans” “no tomatoes” etc. etc. I love those big competition chilis, but I didn’t want to see my chili parties like a chemistry experiment of closely monitored chili dumps. Chili is a fukked up improvisation! People should go nuts and throw in the kitchen sink!