My initial reaction when given my first ramekin-sized serving cup for Saturday’s Celebrity Chili Cook-off to benefit the Charleston Animal Society was panic: Was this supposed to fill me up? Twelve tables later, I saw the wisdom, as my stomach uttered a gasp of resignation. The eight tables remaining (that I could see) topped with three-gallon pots of steaming chili taunted me. There was no way to taste them all. We completely bypassed the “Amateur Tent” by accident, and weren’t even aware that the celebrity restaurants (all two of them) were in another section until Kay Hyman awarded SNOB with a towering Best of Show trophy an hour later. There must have been over 20 entries in all.
In the celebrity tent, some chili contenders doled out spicy carnivorous concoctions of meat and beans, while others catered to vegetarian patrons, their local, fresh ingredients proudly displayed. Charlie T. RiverDog served smoky chili with a side of okra, and Two Girls and a Guy morning show served a side of tie-dyed cornbread (motif still in question) and Charleston Scene editor Marcus Amaker told us his dish was “bionic.”
The smarter competitors took special care to lay out all the fixins (shredded cheese, sour cream, and cornbread) and Miss Charleston 2010 ladled out her surprisingly enjoyable vegan chili (to match her diet and her all-pink wardrobe). Some presentations were more festive than others: Piggly Wiggly-sponsored chefs dressed in matching Santa costumes, but a cowboy theme seemed most popular.
Our favorite quote of the day was contributed by a sore loser in the amateur tent when he discovered the winners: “Their chili was burnt! It tasted like s**t!” Cook-offs are clearly not for the faint of appetite or sportsmanship.