For some reason that still makes no sense to me, I was asked to be a judge for an upcoming chili contest. The event—the 5th Annual Vegan Chili Cook Off—takes place October 8 at Tony’s Darts Away in Burbank, CA. While I’m grateful to have been asked, I’m concerned for a few reasons, but mostly because I have no idea how to judge a vegan chili cook-off. For starters, I’m terrible at decision making. Second, I have been asked to arrive a few minutes before noon, which should be difficult seeing as how I wake up at 11:30. Most importantly, however, is the fact that I dread looking like a fool. I don’t mind being the court jester on my terms, but I get anxious whenever I feel like there’s potential for me not to know something that is common knowledge for others (eg, which fork to use with the salad). With this in mind, my biggest fear for this event is that the other judges (Crossroads Kitchen chef/Kite Hill co-founder Tal Ronnen and chef/2015 Cook Off winner Caroline Concha) will discuss the nuances of the chilis, while I will be shoveling food into my face with no regard for judging decorum. However, when you’ve lived a lifetime of self-doubt and have an overall fear of everything, you learn how to enter scary situations in the least-scary ways. Because of this, I’ve decided to tell the participants four ways they can get my vote, not to help them but to help my judging go as smoothly as possible.
1. Make it hot
You know that Beastie Boys lyric in which Ad-Rock raps, “I like my sugar with coffee and cream?” That’s how I feel about food and hot sauce/spices. By that, I mean that I’ve reached an age where I no longer care about what is traditionally considered “food” because it’s all just a vehicle for me to dump hot sauce and cayenne on top. So, if you’re entering this cook-off and you’re concerned with the bean-to-tomato ratio or whether or not you should make soyrizo from scratch … don’t be. Instead, dump a bunch of something hot into the chili, and when you think, “He can’t possibly want this any spicier,” dump even more. Remember, if I don’t go through an entire box of tissue during my judging, you’re doing it wrong.
2. Use bribery
I feel as if it’s my duty to let everyone know right up front that I am not above this sort of thing. Money, free food, movie passes, airline tickets, mowing my lawn … I accept any and all forms of bribery. That said, in case of a tie—and by that, I mean in case more than one person slips me a freebie—the winner will be based on whoever gives me the most money. So, if you want win this contest (and I know you do), back up the armored truck because I have a lot of student loans to repay.
3. Add some avocado already
Nevermind what I said about in the first part of this list. While it’s true that I love spicy food, I also love avocado. In fact, I’m this close to adding the green fruit to my morning cereal because, lately, having avocado only at lunch and dinner doesn’t seem enough. And now that I’m writing this piece, I’ve had an epiphany: if you really want to win this contest, all you need to do is present me with an avocado drenched in hot sauce and cayenne. Call it “chili,” and you got yourself a blue ribbon. That said, I will still accept your bribes.
4. Don’t look at me when I’m eating
This is my biggest pet peeve and probably explains why my dating history is as fruitful as an orange tree in the Sahara. I absolutely despise eating in public, and I just know that the chefs and the audience will be watching me as I sample chili. For this reason alone, I almost said no to the invite, but I came to my senses when I realized that people were offering me free food, and if my dad taught me anything in life, it’s never to say no to free grub. Still, don’t look at me when I’m eating. If I catch a chef watching me when I eat his/her food, I will mentally disqualify that person from the contest. Unless, of course, he or she bribed me. Then it doesn’t matter.
Ryan Ritchie is VegNews digital editor who doesn’t mean a word he said in this piece … except for the stuff about hot sauce.