On the Road Chili, the team that won the 2012 World Open Chili championship, is getting ready for the Queen Mary's Delicious Chili and Brew Fest in Long Beach on Sunday, September 1. The other day, I had a chance to talk to Clark McGee, of On the Road Chili, about chili, championships, competition and much more. Clark resides just over the mountains from Orange County, in neighboring Riverside County. at the other end of State Highway 74.
“Chili is such a fun food. Most people like it”, Clark began. “Chili cook offs are such a social setting. We harass each other, do shooters together and visit in the morning and them we compete”. He feels good about the competitors he will be cooking against. “There are going to be the best chili cooks from the West Coast at the Queen Mary. If you can get auto-qualified at this cook off, it makes it much easier to plan for the World Championship. I expect a great turnout at the Queen Mary. It's a great location and a holiday weekend. I'm excited!”.
The public is a big part of the chili cook off scene, according to Clark. “I get a kick out of handing out chili. When someone says 'I don't care for chili but this is the best I've ever tasted', I'm really happy”.
In fact, at the International Chili Society's Championship, Clark won the People's Choice Award two years in a row. It is a team effort, however, for Clark. “Our team, On the Road Chili, each specializes in a different area. Ken and I do the People's Choice, while Chuck specializes in red and green chili. Chuck started red and green first. Last year, all three of us qualified for green chili”. He continued, “We have a colorful booth. We call ourselves the 'Three Amigos' and have colorful shirts. We love to interact with people at the booth”.
Last year, the On the Road chili team did twenty-one cook offs, including two in Nevada and one in Arizona. “A typical day at a cook off is 12 hours”, Clark said. “We had an unbelievable year; a heck of a run, culminating in winning the World Food Championship last year in Las Vegas. We took the Open Chili Championship. We wound up winning it all in the open chili category against the best chili cooks in the world. It was like a dream!”.He added, “It was quite an experience to go to the WFC. It was great to compete against the best of the best”. Last October, they traveled to Charleston, West Virginia, to compete in the International Chili Society Cook Off Championship. In Charleston, they won the People's Choice Award.
Clark started in chili as an ICS judge for 2 ½ years and then decided it was time to compete. Interestingly enough, for the competition, they only cook a quart of chili for the judging. For people's Choice, the quantity cooked is a few gallons to allow the public their tastes. Clark uses an interesting choice of meat for his chili. “I like tri tip for the chili. It tastes great and it does not break down during the long cooking. Other meats break down after three hours, but not tri tip. Also, the tri tip really soaks up the chili flavor”. As an ICS sanctioned event, the rules are very specific as to the chili for judging. “It is just meat, spices and sauce. In green chili, it has to be either chicken or pork. In ICS, the timing also has to be exact when you present your chili for the blind judging”. In other competitions, there is also a category for freestyle chili. That can include anything, such as pasta, corn or carrots. For People's Choice, On the Road Chili usually includes beans, which are not allowed in the ICS Chili judging.
At home, Clark makes his chili following his basic recipe for his People's Choice chili but adds a bit more into it. As far as beans go, Clark said, “I grew up eating beans in chili and that's the way I like it. We cook competition red without beans because that is the rule. For other chili, beans and peppers cut the richness and soak up the flavors”. Clark's favorite chili category is the green chili, or chili verde. Other then that, he likes the homestyle category. “It's much more expensive to do, but the people love it”, he said. He also likes the idea of the “hat trick” in chili competitions. “Salsa is done in competitions too. Lots of people do the hat trick, green red and salsa”.
As far as the Brew Fest part of the Queen Mary's Delicious Chili and Brew Fest, Clark is all for it. “I think chili and beer go together. You can't get any better then that!”, he said. With the Brew Fest part of the event, everyone will have a chance to try many different beers, most brewed by local breweries. Clark summed up his thoughts on chili cook offs by this statement. “We still enjoy it and when I get a thumbs up it's great. I really love it when a kid says, 'mom, I love it'. That's great!”
The Inaugural Delicious Chili and Brewfest will take place at the Queen Mary Waterfront Events Park on Sunday, September 1 from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. General admission starts at just $10, with special VIP passes for a special experience available for $39 that includes early admission, a souvenir mug, five tasting tickets and a VIP lounge. Tasting tickets are $2 and can be purchased in quantity. Information for tickets can be found on the Delicious Chili and Brewfest page of the Queen Mary's website.
Clark and his championship-winning On the Road Chili team will be there, so stop on by, say hello and try some great chili!
Delicious Chili and Brew Fest
1126 Queens Highway
Long Beach, CA 90802
Information: (877) 342-0738