To Fallston man, chili is the spice of life He placed first in Texas cook-off

September 28, 1992|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

Strings of lights shaped like bright red chili peppers hang on a handrail, illuminating at night the walkway leading to his Fallston house.

Nameplates nailed on the faces of the walkway steps honor the winners of his annual New Year's Day Chili Cook-Off.

He's been known to stand outdoors in 4 inches of water to cook chili, and he once answered to the name Great Pepper.

You could say Bruce Pinnell likes his chili. So did the judges in the 1992 Chilympiad, the Texas State Men's Chili Championship held Sept. 19 in San Marcos, Texas.

"I was the first non-Texan to win in the 23 years they've been holding the contest," Mr. Pinnell said proudly. "That contest is a real matter of pride for Texans."

The Texans seem to be taking the news of his victory pretty well.

"We don't mind. If you can beat us you deserve to win," said Mel Burton, a Saguin, Texas, resident who took a 100-mile detour from a business trip to compete yesterday in the Sunday-in-the-Park Chili Cook-Off at Oregon Ridge Park.

"But poor Bruce has a heck of a responsibility today, because if they beat him, they'll never let him forget it," said Mr. Burton, who competed against Mr. Pinnell in the 1992 Chilympiad, also billed as the World's Largest Chili Cook-Off.

Mr. Pinnell's Texas victory is the crowning achievement in his 20-year love affair with the spicy concoction of meat -- no beans, please -- that began because he was bored New Year's Day.

"There isn't much to do on New Year's Day, so I decided to start cooking chili for my friends while we watched the games," Mr. Pinnell said. "It wasn't until about eight years ago that I realized they actually had contests. There's really a whole subculture of people who go around the country cooking chili."

Intrigued by photographs of chili cook-off winners he saw in a Chili's restaurant while visiting Texas, Mr. Pinnell contacted the Chili Appreciation Society International in Texas and attended the 1984 Chilympiad, where for the first time he saw chili cooked outdoors on propane stoves.

He returned to Maryland and immediately started a local chapter of C.A.S.I., known as the Mason-Dixon Chili Pod. His formal title as president of the pod? Great Pepper, of course.

Mrs. Pinnell is now Maryland's Great Pepper, but Mr. Pinnell still serves on C.A.S.I.'s board of directors, and the couple has spent the last eight years traveling any time, anywhere to cook chili outdoors.

"When Hurricane Gilbert came through Texas three years ago, we were standing in 4 inches of water. We're die-hards," said Mr. Pinnell, as he stirred his chili, protected from yesterday's downpour by a canopy.

"I think part of the attraction is the passion everyone has toward their own chili. It's an extremely popular food, and nobody admits to make mediocre chili. But it's really the people, more than the chili. They're very big-hearted. You can travel anywhere in the country and they'll put you up, give you a pot and a stove. You only have to bring your recipe."

Don't let the bonhomie fool you, though. Chili enthusiasts take their cook-offs very seriously. They adhere to strict rules so they can earn points to participate in an international competition each fall in Terlingua, Texas.

And don't ask a prize-winner for a recipe.

"The recipes we use for competition are so complicated no one would be able to duplicate them at home because some of the ingredients are too hard to find," Mr. Pinnell said. "For instance, I use a mixture of specially blended chili powders that is given to me every once in a while by some friends of mine in Texas -- but they won't tell me where they get it.

"Competition chili isn't really good for eating, anyway. You have to cook the chili so it has a very intense flavor, because the judges only taste one spoonful."

The evaluation of that spoonful is very subjective, based on color red), aroma, heat, aftertaste, consistency and, apparently, the state you're in.

A week after being judged the best of 541 cooks in Texas, Mr. Pinnell found himself in fourth place out of 15 cooks in yesterday's competition. Mr. Burton, the Texas native, came in second, behind another Fallston resident, S. Robert Masserelli. Start with:

2 lbs. cubed "mock tender" beef -- 1/2 -inch cubes with all fat removed

1 tbs. CriscoBrown meat on medium heat in a 2-3 qt. pot for about 15 minutes, then add:

1 can beef broth

1 can chicken broth

2 medium onions, diced

2 tbs. chili powder (preferably pure grind, with no cumin etc.)

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tbs. Season-All

4 oz. tomato sauce (no salt)Boil rapidly for 30 minutes with lid on the pot. Reduce heat to a very slow simmer and cook for 30 bTC minutes with lid on the pot. When meat is 90 percent done, add:

2 tbs. Texas Style Chili Powder

1 tbs. cumin

1 tsp. minced garlic

1/4 tsp. black pepperTurn off heat for one hour. Then reheat to a rapid boil just long enough to add the following:

4 oz. tomato sauce

1 tbs. Texas Style Chili Powder

1/2 tsp. onion powderReduce heat to a very slow simmer for 30 minutes, add beef broth as necessary to adjust consistency. Serve with grated cheese (Cheddar or Parmesan), chopped onions and jalapenos as condiments. If beans are desired, use pinto beans and cook them separately. Also may be served over pasta or rice. Add salt and cayenne pepper to taste.

Bruce Pinnell

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