Saturday, 27 September 2014

Lupe Pinto's Tollcross Chili Cook Off: Why I picked the runner-up

Last year I attended Lupe Pinto's annual Chili Cook Off as an ordinary punter. This year I got a Judge's Ticket.

Once again, Tollcross was decked out in papel picado and Mexican flags, making the coolest city in Scotland even cooler.

This is a great event with a great vibe. People dress up. People paint their faces. People bring their kids. Nobody goes hungry.

Let me explain how this works. Ten venues in the Tollcross area, most of which are pubs, cook up some chili. People buy tickets from Lupe Pinto's, which entitles them to sample the chili. Then they rate it from 1 to 10 on three factors: taste; texture; and originality.

Entering the Tollcross from the west, I stopped first at Lebowskis on Morrison Street, last year's winner.

As before, they advertised the ingredients list and the concept, this year a "green chili" made of slow-cooked pork ("slow-cooked" is an adjective you're going to see a lot in this post) and three kinds of green chile (note I spell it differently when it refers to the ingredient instead of the dish), cooked in chicken stock to give it a pale colour, and served with a slice of lime.

The concept was certainly original. I've never made green "chili" before. Whereas last year the chili had a few different meat ingredients, this year it was just the pork, kind of like carnitas. It was soft as you like, but one piece in my sample was a wee bit fatty, so I had to deduct a bit on texture. The flavour, however, fired on all cylinders. In fact, it was the most Mexican-tasting chili I've ever had. (Chili is not actually a Mexican dish; it's the state dish of Texas, which used to be part of Mexico, but definitely has its own cusine.) So my soft spot in this area caused me to pick Lebowskis as the winner on flavour again this year.

However, there was a new kid on the block this year: Burger, on Fountainbridge. Their star ingredient was slow-cooked beef short rib, which really paid off in the texture. But the taste was the real asset. They managed a perfect marriage of sweet and smoky. It was a more traditional idea for a chili (beef, rich dark sauces, smoke), so I gave it less points on originality, but in all other ways it was masterful.

It was also quite the crowd-pleaser. Everywhere I went the buzz was about Burger's chili. I could tell it was going to win.

Burger's winning chili, with its ample accompaniments.
At this point I could have considered revising my original scores, but for me, the Mexican flavour of the three green chiles, one of which was a poblano, is still my personal number one.

But, Burger's chili was equally excellent, and I accept the people's democratic choice.