When it’s chilly outside, it’s time for chili inside.
Nine local restaurants, a top-notch caterer and the Kenosha Fire Department battled for culinary bragging rights at the Kenosha History Center’s 14th annual Chili Cook-Off on a cold, blustery Saturday night at the UAW Local 72 Hall, 3615 Washington Road.
Kenosha native David Perez of Chef David’s Catered Events continued his dominance with another first-place honor in the People’s Choice award. Firefighter Cory Cage was second and tg’s was third. Frank’s Diner won the Judges’ Choice award.
Perez’ chili garnered high reviews for its perfect balance of flavor and heat. He used hand-cut prime beef sirloin and trimmed pork shoulder with a combination of fresh sweet peppers and dried chili peppers. The key ingredient was perhaps the batch’s authentic San Marzano plum tomatoes.
“I’ve always been able to make a good chili,” said Perez, who has competed annually in the event since 2009.”The biggest thing is my beef. It’s all prime sirloin and I balance it out with the pork shoulder. It’s all hand-cut and trimmed. You want balance. You want a nice texture. The heat you should taste on the backside. It shouldn’t be so overpowering.”
Perez was one of the top vote-getters for the seventh time in the last eight years. He is also a two-time Judges’ Choice recipient.
Cage put forth a valiant effort against Perez’ award-winning batch. The only competitor outside of the food industry, Cage offered a smoked brisket chili to die for. His chili advanced to the cook-off with a first-place finish at Kenosha’s Laborfest on Sept. 3.
“I smoke the brisket for eight hours, chop it up and put it in there,” said Cage, who works at Kenosha Fire Station No. 7. “I added a little bit of bacon and few different beans.”
The competition featured a variety of recipes from local restaurants Frank’s Diner (baked chili), tg’s (Colorado green chili), Johnny’Z Pour House (Guinness-infused chili), Baco’s Tacos & Waffles (taco chili), Mason’s Eatery & Pub (smoked brisket chili), Grab’s Burger Bar (Black Angus chili), Kenosha Yacht Club (prime rib chili), Kaiser’s Pizza (ground beef chili) and Twisted Cuisine (venison chili).
About 275 people attended the event. It was moved to the UAW for the first time to accommodate a larger crowd and due to ongoing repairs, according to Kenosha History Center board chairman John O’Day.
The turnout was particularly strong considering the event occurred simultaneously as Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. Strategically thinking, Cage brought his laptop and allowed Milwaukee Brewers fans the opportunity to watch baseball while sampling his chili.
“I was hoping it would attract some people over here,” Cage said.
A hungry crowd arrived early, perhaps to eat dinner before the first pitch of the game. O’Day added seven extra tables and reported some of the competitors were dangerously low on chili in under one hour.
“My favorite was Chef David’s,” said 46-year-old chili taster Carrie Liggett of Oak Creek. “It had the right amount of heat to it. Some there was not enough spice. Some there was too much. His had the perfect amount of beef and beans. It tasted a lot like my mom’s chili growing up.”
John Ziemba, owner of Johnny’Z Pour House, competed in the event for the first time. “It was awesome,” Ziemba said. “I definitely want to come back next year.”