Ask a Texan where chili came from, and he'll probably insist it came from Texas. It's easy to understand why he'd say that considering how short Texas has been lately on exports they can be proud of. But the truth is long before former governors inflicted their ridiculous policies on the rest of the world, long before Davy Crockett bravely fought to prevent Mexicans from taking back their own land, long before Columbus "discovered" land the natives had known about for some time, Inca, Aztec and Mayan Indians were mixing meat, beans, peppers and herbs together to make a dish known for its superb flavor and remarkable ability to cause heartburn.
In all likelihood, Texas can probably at least be credited with inventing the chili cook-off. Picture a scene in which two cooks are relaxing in a saloon after a long day on the ranch, taking shots of whiskey and talking about work.
First cook: "I made some dang good chili today!"
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Second cook: "So did I!"
Both cooks simultaneously: "Wanna fight about it?"
Regardless of its origin, the chili cook-off quickly became a staple of county fairs, King of the Hill plot lines and office parties everywhere. In 2006, the International Chili Society awarded a grand prize of $25,000 to J.R. Knudson in its World Championship Chili Cook-Off. Knudson didn't start out on the championship circuit, though. Like a prizefighter, he worked his way up the ranks before dominating all other competitors. This means that at some point, in some insurance office, Knudson was giving out spoonfuls of the chili that would one day be officially recognized as the best chili in the world. And that is the beauty of the sport. No matter how big or how small the arena, there exists the possibility that YOU might be sampling what could one day be deemed as the best of its kind in the whole world! Your next opportunity to taste potentially award-winning chili comes this Sunday. Just because you don't have to work doesn't mean your stomach gets to slack off, too.
Belmont Shore Chili Cookoff on Second St. between Roycroft and Bayshore, Long Beach, (562) 434-3066; www.belmontshore.org. Sun., noon-3 p.m. $5.