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October 23, 2014

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Chili cook off an array of spicy samplings

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Allison Duck

A cooking crew from the Rah Rah Chili Company took part in Saturday’s Sonrisa Grill Inaugural Chili Cook Off to benefit Green Valley High School and Lake Mead Christian Academy, held at MonteLago Village at Lake Las Vegas.

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A photo collage shows the history of two now-deceased chili cooking champions, Carl and Pop Baker, whose recipe was brought Saturday to the Sonrisa Grill Inaugural Chili Cook Off at Lake Las Vegas.

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A team from Loews restaurant participates in the Sonrisa Grill Inaugural Chili Cook Off Saturday at Lake Las Vegas.

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Judges taste the chili in Saturday's Sonrisa Grill Inaugural Chili Cook Off to benefit Green Valley High School and Lake Mead Christian Academy, held at MonteLago Village at Lake Las Vegas.

Now that football season is coming to a close, it’s nice to finally leave the house or bar on the weekend and enjoy the early Spring weather at an outdoor activity.

On Saturday, The International Chili Society sponsored the Sonrisa Grill Inaugural Chili Cook Off to benefit Green Valley High School and Lake Mead Christian Academy, held at MonteLago Village at Lake Las Vegas. It was worth the drive to the outskirts of town for a sampling of the best that local chili cooks had to offer.

One booth had an interesting photo collage out in front and the chef at this booth, Michael McAfee, related the sad story of the team from Line Shack Chili.

McAfee pointed to the collage and noted that Carl and his father, Pop Baker, “have been on the circuit for 25 years. Pop died the day before his birthday (Jan. 22 of this year) just before his 89th birthday and his son Carl had cancer and passed away just before that.”

Michael McAfee, of Bullhead City, Ariz., had been helping the Bakers at chili competitions for years and decided to carry on their traditions and bring their award-winning chili recipe to the Lake Las Vegas competition. McAfee said the Bakers, “won between 80 and 100 trophies. They have been to the World Championships six or seven times. They finished fourth one year.”

Many of the Lake Las Vegas restaurants sponsored booths at the competition. The team from Loews restaurant put a Mediterranean spin on chili, using lamb instead the of more traditional beef or pork, and garnishing their dish with a cucumber mint tzatziki sauce in lieu of cheese and onions. The chefs from the Ritz Carlton produced a spicy red chili that drew in a long line of tasters.

In the white chili department, Chef Josh Clark of Sunset and Vines had a monopoly but did not rest on his laurels, churning out pot after pot of a delicious chicken and white bean chili. He seemed the best prepared for the larger than anticipated crowds and was one of the only chefs still serving the hungry crowd after the judging began.

Chef Billy Joe, caterer and executive chef at the local Omelet House restaurants, made my favorite chili of the day. He was one of the only chefs to come prepared with diced onions, shredded cheese and sour cream, though his product was delicious on its own as well. “Today I had a day off so I thought I would try a chili contest. This is my first competition. I ran out of chili, six whole gallons of chili served one ounce at a time. Some people were back for sixths and sevenths.”

While I was chatting with Chef Billy Joe, a lady walked up to him and said, “I liked yours the best.” Chef Billy Joe’s chili had the right combination of spice and a proper ratio of meat to sauce.

Unlike some of the other contestants, Billy Joe’s chili was a nice thick consistency. He said you can always tell when chili is good if it sticks to the spoon.

I glanced at the ballot box as I submitted my vote for Billy Joe’s chili as the crowd favorite and I noticed his booth’s number was written on three quarters of the ballots in the top of the box. Hopefully the Sonrisa Chili Cook Off and Chef Billy Joe will have another great showing at next year’s event.

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