Different Drummers Kitchen Chili Cook Off

I can be a troublemaker when I want to be.

A couple of weeks ago, Different Drummers Kitchen (DDK) was soliciting nominations for who makes the best chili via facebook. I took the liberty of nominating Rory, one of my best friends, without asking him. Hey, Rory’s the type of guy who would do the same thing for me. Before I knew it, Rory was selected as one of the finalists, and it all happened so quickly, I’m not sure he even knew he was nominated before he knew he was a finalist.

Years ago, when I tried the Atkins diet, Rory passed along his chili recipe to me so that I could take a break from eating pork to eat bowlfuls of beef. Around the same time, Rory’s chili achieved legendary status when he decided it was appropriate to bring at least twelve pounds in a loosely covered Crockpot to a potluck dinner for maybe seven. Not only did we not put a dent in the chili, but Rory’s poor cousin wound up wearing some on the ride back due to some unfortunate and frankly unbelievable dips in the road.

It’s also the faithful evening where this happened:

Best Halloween costume ever: the nWo buck tooth f*ck

This past Friday, after hearing he was a finalist, Rory embarked on making his Rushton Red, which requires almost a full day of slow cooking. Saturday, he and I convened at Different Drummers Kitchen about 30 minutes before judging; that allowed enough time to reheat and put the finishing touches on the chili.

Different Drummers Kitchen

The least I could do was help Rory out, since it was my fault that he was even involved in this. Luckily for me, I wasn’t going to be wearing any of the chili since Rory built a Rube Goldberg apparatus to transport the chili this time.

Rube Goldberg Chili Container

Once we arrived, Michele from DDK showed us around the kitchen, and I got the chili onto the induction stove and started getting it up to temperature. Rory started adding his last ingredient, wet masa harina, to thicken and flavor the chili.

Rory with a cup of masa harina

I had realized that Rory didn’t bring anything to top the chili, so I ran out of DDK down Stuyvesant Plaza like Larry does when the violin breaks in “Punch Drunks” to see if I could find something suitable. Luckily, The Meat House had a smoked cheddar that I thought would go with the chili; I also scored a bottle of chipotle Cholula hot sauce there. CVS had one container of sour cream left. I ran back, and, thankfully, by that time, the chili was finally getting hot.

With the quickness, I shredded up the cheese and got the last few things in order.

Last few ingredients

Smoked cheddar, Cholula Chipotle hot sauce, sour cream

Rory’s chili was the first to be judged. The judges for the event were Steve Barnes from the Albany Times Union and Byron Nilsson, who writes for Metroland, both of which have years of experience and distinguished palates.

Rory talked about his chili while I assisted by plating for the judges.


Rory's Rushton Red

Judges judging and crowd watching

The next four competitors explained their dishes and submitted them for judging. I didn’t really catch a lot of the details, mainly because Rory is the type of guy who will talk to you during anything.

The judges stepped away for quick deliberation and came back to announce the winners.

Judges announcing the winners

The first winner they announced was Rory, who took third place and won a certificate for a free cooking class at DDK. Second place went to a young man named, Matt Misner, who made a nice and spicy chili with Anaheim and chipotle chiles; he took home a Le Creuset mini cocotte and a certificate for a cooking class. The winning chili was submitted by a lady named Andrea Rutkowski. Her preparation was the most elaborate, as she used a plethora of Spanish and Moroccan spices as well as chorizo to flavor her chili, as explained on Table Hopping. She also prepared some cornbread and churros to serve with the chili; her prize was a 5 qt Le Creuset Dutch oven.

Cornbread and Churros

Winning chili

They started passing out cups and letting people try all of the chilis. I think I was able to line up the three winners, first place on the left, third on the right. (I’m not sure I had a chance to try the two other entries.)

All of the chilis

The winning chili was very sweet. It was also pretty tight and reminded us more of sloppy Joe than chili; the layers of flavor were rich, so it wasn’t surprising that this won. The second place winner was probably the most ubiquitous; it had lots of beans and all the chile flavor that you’d associate with a hearty, beefy chili.

Rory’s Texas-style chili, described by Rory as “more of a chili con carne,” had its own character. He was the only person who used chunks of beef chuck in lieu of ground beef. The recipe relies on slow cooking to break down the beef and the vegetables. Since much of the flavoring is added close to the beginning of cooking, those flavors mellow out, and, in speaking with one of the judges (Byron), Rory’s could have used some deeper flavor to set it over the edge. The masa harina (corn flour) that thickens the chili at the end is actually my favorite part, as it adds a toasty flavor.

All in all, it seems like all of the competitors had a good time, which is really the most important part. It’s like how one of my elementary school gym teachers used to say, “if you had fun, you won.”

Rory was pretty ecstatic that he came in third and even decided to use his cooking class certificate on the spot to reserve a space in the egg basics class I’m teaching at DDK.

Egg Cooking Class

I’m glad I was able to give my buddy a hand and that his efforts payed off. Events like this are fun. DDK really knows how to party!

(If enough people want the recipe, I’ll talk to Rory about posting it. Leave a comment if you want to make your own Rushton Red!)


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