I ordered chili once in New York City, at a restaurant called the Visigoth. A few hours later, the waiter set a plate down on which was a small nugget of sautéed beef, a single dried red pepper, and a sensible bean, plated between parallel lines of tomato sauce. It was the worst chili of my life; it was the best chili of my life.
Because great chili is that which presses us to transcend our own limitations and to reconsider the definition of what can be done with a humble roll of chuck. And so, when Well Done hosted our first-ever company chili cook-off, I was prepared for anything.
Anything but the one thing I wasn’t prepared for at all.
Eight of Well Done’s finest cooks entered the Chili Thunderdome that day, crockpots set to Murder. The offerings ranged from classics like “Chili Con Carne” to the risk-taking “Now That’s What I Call (Vegetarian) Chili 62.” It was up to us, the judgmental employees, to select a winner.
We rated the chilis across five categories: aroma, consistency, color, taste, and aftertaste. After each chili was sampled and the scores were tallied, a clear winner emerged: the “Chili Con Carne.” New York City can keep their postmodern aliments. Here in the Midwest, we appreciate the classics.
After the winning chili was announced, the proverbial veil was lifted from our eyes and lo! The winner was none other than our own Melissa Yoder. I had the opportunity to ask her a few questions after her stunning victory.
So put us in your head—you’re in the kitchen, you’ve got a big empty pot on the stove, and you have to create an award-winning chili. What are you thinking?
I hope it tastes good. Look, you can’t go into this thinking about the prize—you have to enjoy the process. I grew up with a mom and grandma who cooked everything, so I always had an interest in it. And I figured out really early on that if you hung out in the kitchen you’d get to taste the food that was being cooked. So I enjoy everything about making food (except the clean-up), and my favorite part is when other people like it.
Has it been difficult to work with seven chili losers?
I think all the chilis were good! And also, this is the first thing I’ve ever won. Ever. In my life. So I don’t have a big head about it.
What words of advice do you have for the little chili dreamers reading this right now?
Don’t be afraid to spice it up! And if you don’t know where to start, ask for recipes. You learn a lot about a person and their background by asking about their recipes. About 10 years ago I put together a family cookbook of favorite recipes from myself, my sister, my mom, and grandma, and it was a really nice way to learn about my family and do something that captured a part of us on paper.
If you need a ringer to ensure victory at your next office chili cook off, look no further. Here’s Melissa Yoder’s prize-winning recipe:
Chili Can Carne
• ½ large onion, chopped
• ½ green pepper, chopped
• 1 lb hamburger
• 15 oz can light red kidney beans, slightly drained
• 15 oz can black beans, slightly drained
• 15 oz can tomato sauce
• 1 tbsp chili powder
• ¾ tsp salt
• Dash paprika, cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper (crunch in your fingers to release oils before adding) and cumin
• Water as needed
Brown onion, green pepper and hamburger with salt and pepper. Add beans, tomato sauce and seasonings. Cover, simmer 45 mins to 1 hr.
You can easily double or triple this to feed a crowd!