Sunday, July 27, 2003

Chilifest really cooks


Food, music sizzle near fire museum

By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Some like it hot. But almost everyone likes it chili.

This Midwestern town got a little bit spicier this weekend, as hundreds gathered for the 21st annual Gold Star Chilifest. Appropriate, since Cincinnati is famous for its chili passion, having the highest number of chili franchises per capita in the country.

IF YOU GO
When: Today, noon to 10 p.m.
Where: West Court Street, downtown
Entertainment: Music by Salsa Caliente!, The Sonny Moorman Group, Leroy Ellington & the E-Funk Band, Funky Town and Catch 22.
Admission: Free
Information: www.chilifest.com
On Saturday, downtown's West Court Street was blocked off from noon to midnight to make room for vat after vat of the bubbling, meaty stew. (People in search of beans were out of luck, however. Regarded as mere "filler," they are against chili cook-off rules.)

The cook-off contenders ranged from Cincinnati-style blends, with a slightly sweet combination of spices, to fiery Mexican style. .

Paul Deane, 37, of Deer Park, and his father (also Paul), stirred a kettle of thick, zesty goodness at their enthusiastically decorated booth. Calling themselves The Meatles, the duo even sang a few tunes, such as "Help! (I Need Some Chili)."

"You've got to love making chili, otherwise you're not going to end up with a good pot," Deane said, eyeing his Tex-Mex concoction from under a floppy chef's hat.

Cook Archie Chestnut, of Charleston, W.Va., made his Tristate debut at Chilifest with a Cincinnati-style blend.

"Out West, they just have beef and broth - it's not nearly as good as Cincinnati chili," he said from his booth, which bore a sticker that read, "Bring on the maximum-strength Pepto-Bismol!"

Chestnut also specializes in pumpkin chili, coalminer's chili (a dark black-bean stew), and Christmas chili (a white chili with red and green peppers).

"This is a top-class event for chili cooks," he said.

Looking to win another title at the cook-off was "Chili" Dan Segal, 46, of Montgomery, who began making his blend of meats and spices in the late 1970s.

"This is a neat gathering for people of all levels of competition," he said, standing in front of a table littered with cook-off trophies.

Segal attributes his success to helpers such as Chili John, a neighbor of Segal who doubles as Chief Onion Chopper, and to always following the basic rule of chili-making:

"Don't make it too hot," he warned. "Really hot chili is a misconception."

Live music from bands such as Fiesta Dance Company rivaled the chili in thermal appeal . The crowd also enjoyed games, magic shows and food from a number of other vendors.

"I'm impressed by the variety of things," said Kenya Tuck, 21, of Forest Park. "They should have more events like this downtown."

Following a three-year hiatus at Yeatman's Cove, the Chilifest returned this year to its original venue in front of the Cincinnati Fire Museum.

"I'm glad it's back on Court Street instead of on the river," said Henry Beissel, 65, of downtown. "I think it made too much of a mess by the river, with paper plates all over the place. It was just too dirty. Here it's more under control.

"This chili is a great thing for Cincinnati," he said.

E-mail mdowns@enquirer.com




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