The star and stripe-spangled All Star Lanes bowling alley was yesterday filled with one of the sights dearest to Londonist's heart - tray after steaming tray of free chilli, just begging to be sampled in a pre-Independence Day Chilli Cook-Off. Wasting no time in getting stuck in, we were quickly surprised at the diverse range of flavours and textures on offer, undoubtedly the result of the 'secret ingredients' employed by the 20 contestants: paprika and chocolate were used in many recipes and beer, coffee and even molasses featured in a few. What a Thai green curry was doing amongst the other entries, however, remains a mystery.
There were hits and misses. We were particularly intrigued by the Indian-influenced recipe of Paul Bhattacharjee, as well as good traditional entries such as that of Amber Raney-Kincade. A native of Texas, the chilli heartland, Amber admits that chilli makes her nostalgic for home, and her entry, adapted from a family recipe, displayed the deep, smoky notes that she insists are typical of Texan chilli.
As we mingled with the crowd and dodged the inaudible comedian, we sneaked a peak at the judges, who were huddled around samples like naughty schoolboys. The professional chefs and critics sniffed, prodded and tasted the entries with an expert touch, and as All Star Lanes' Steve Collins put it, were looking for the perfect combination of 'heat, gravy and meat'. They eventually declared All Star Lanes Chef Johnny Turner the winner, whilst designer Charlie Nelson scooped the 'People's Choice Award' with his, um, wittily named, 'Charlie Con Carne'.
Whilst we were a little disappointed that the event was won by a professional, the empty dishes at the end were a suitable testimony to the quality. We now await someone to declare a British equivalent - Sheperd's Pie Cook-Off, anyone?
By Caroline Roddis. All images by Zaspic.