Yesterday’s inaugural Gastown Blues & Chili Festival made for a filling and fascinating time. My job was to arrive in front of Revel on Abbott St. by 12:45pm to join my fellow judges, and then spend the next two hours tasting and ranking 16 different chilis from neighbourhood restaurants (The Alibi Room, The Irish Heather, Boneta, The Diamond, Wild Rice, Cobre, Chill Winston, Deacon’s Corner and more).
The chilis arrived in four batches of four, or one batch every thirty minutes. Each one was judged according to colour, flavour, consistency, meat texture, and aroma. Some were very unorthodox (yellow, green, dark brown, heavy on chocolate, molé and nutmeg, etc) with mixed results, but there were a few ochre-coloured monsters with seriously nuanced and lengthy spice profiles and/or smells that could make one kill the nearest creature in order to slurp from its veins, raw. I’m afraid a good chili is a rather savage thing…
The coolest thing about the competition was that it was totally blind. Most of the cooking competitions that I help to adjudicate – including the Canadian Culinary Championships – are open, meaning that the judges are aware of the provenance of each dish. Here, refreshingly, the chilis were marked only by numbers scrawled on the bottom of their individual serving containers. I had no idea whose chili I was tasting at any given spoonful, and no clue (until I announced the winners on stage) which restaurants were ranking highest.
During downtimes I was able to check out all the performers and musicians and slam a sledgehammer down on the make-the-bell-ring game; sip Maker’s Mark bourbon in an air-conditioned Revel crowded with bar staff from around town (everyone seemed to have the day off); and hang out in the Red Truck beer garden (to wash my palate clean).
As for the results, Chill Winston won the twittered people’s choice nod for best chili (a popularity contest via smartphone), while the judging crew had the Irish Heather in at 3rd with 124 points, the Alibi Room in 2nd with 127 points, and Deacon’s Corner squeaking into 1st with a well deserved 128 points.
Funds were raised for Girls Rock Camp Vancouver, a local charity helping girls aged 8-18 years explore, access and play music with positive mentors, surroundings and workshops. Overall, a good time, I think, was had by everyone, which is a testament to the skills of the Fest’s organisers (take a bow Dennis Brock, Betsy Cooper, et al). Blues band Dirty Bottom had the block rocking, faces were painted, firemen were swooned over, and the many cops on hand didn’t harsh the general mellow. Nice.