The Great and Honorable Chili Commission holds first chili cook-off


Sixteen steaming chili crock pots. Twelve judges. And the winners are ….

On Wednesday night the Great and Honorable Chili Commission of the Colorado House held its first (and hopefully not last) chili cook-off — an opportunity to blow off steam and clear sinuses.

The cook-off was a chance for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to show off both their chili talents and their ability to trash talk. Reps. Lori Saine and Daneya Esgar put together the competition.

A dozen judges — four Republicans, four Democrats and four non-partisan/celebrity judges — tried out the creations, some from lawmakers and a few from spouses.

Several said they worked for days (!) on their chili submissions, testing this way and that to come up with the perfect combination of beans, spices and meats or vegetables for the vegetarian version.

Gathered in a small kitchen off the House floor Wednesday night, the tension was high, with judges scurrying from one crockpot to another and bites of sherbet in between to clear the palate.

There are some mighty fine chili cooks (and/or their spouses) in the House. My personal favorite was the sweet beer chili from Rep. “Skinny” Winkler (whose wife was the actual cook). In addition to the hint of beer, the sweetness, which made it the most unique chili, IMO, came from a pinch of chocolate, making it a truly Mexican-style chili. Sorry, Mrs. Winkler, I twisted it out of him. I had to know.


Awards were given for best red, best green, best white, best vegetarian and the most sought-after prize of all: Best of House. The 12 judges, which included yours truly and Shaun Boyd Chohan of CBS4, made the call on those awards. More about that later.

There oughta be an award for best-named chili, too. Some of the names were just a hoot, such as “Omnivore Dilemma,” a vegetarian chili from Rep. Mike Weissman, or “The Buck Stops Here,” a red from Rep. Perry Buck; “Beginner’s Luck,” the red submitted by Rep. Paul Rosenthal; and “Freedom Chili,” a white from Rep. Patrick Neville. The jokes just write themselves.

My favorite: “Chili Surprise, #%$#*&@#ERS!” a white from Rep. Jeni Arndt. Not sure what the surprise was and not sure I want to ask, either.

Saine pointed out the competition judging was loosely based on a mix of ideas about voting, with the 12-member mix of partisan and nonpartisan judges, akin to a redistricting panel; a popular vote (by the individual caucuses); and approval voting (favored by Winkler).

The most competitive division was for best red, with seven crockpots at the ready. The green chili category had four entrants, white had three and vegetarian drew two entries.

The judging was done via a blind taste test, which not only prevented judges from knowing whose chili they were tasting, but also kept out any opportunities for bribes (darn it!).

Not that there wasn’t other mischief involved. Emails flew among contestants around the chamber in the week leading up to the contest, including an alleged exchange between Reps. Perry Buck and Jeni Arndt about who was going to win and who would get only a participation ribbon.

“Lots of smack talk,” Saine said.

And now for the winners:

Best Red: Rep. Hugh McKean, for “Best Damn Chili.”

Best White: McKean, for “Special Orders Chili.” He has got some serious chili chops.

Best Green: Rep. Adrienne Benevidez, for “Sabroso Verde” (tasty green) chili.

Best Vegetarian: Weissman, for “Omnivore Dilemma.”

The Best in House came down to a three-way tie between Rep. Paul Rosenthal’s Beginner’s Luck red,  Winkler’s sweet beer chili red and Benevidez’ green, with anxious moments while Rep. Joe Salazar (who didn’t know whose was whose) making the final call.

The trophy went to (drum roll, please):

Saine’s already planning for next year, but one thing is clear: The Senate, “because they can’t cook anyway,” is not invited.

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