10/16/11 — Chefs prepare to collide in Really Chili challenge Saturday

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Chefs prepare to collide in Really Chili challenge Saturday

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on October 16, 2011 1:50 AM

Victory tasted sweet for Jeff Pitta last year.

Well, more spicy than sweet as Pitta, his team and his Dr. Chili's Germ-kicking Chili have since enjoyed their year as the Community Soup Kitchen's Really Chili Cook Off champions. But now there are dozens of competitors aiming to best Dr. Chili's prescription from last year.

And, he says, they'll be competing against the same award-winning chili that won out last year.

"I've stuck with the same recipe forever since I've been in it," he said, noting that he won third place in the contest two years ago before placing first in 2010. "I'm going to fine tune it a little bit and stick with the same recipe as last year."

He considered entering another recipe, as well, but decided against it and opted to focus solely on his proven championship chili during the cook-off Saturday at the Center Street Jam parking lot off Center Street -- a good move, if you ask Wesley Dills, the captain of the Ba-ja-Humbug Grill team.

"Well the thing is, if it's not broke, don't fix it," he said.

But still, a new challenger, like his Center Stage team, could take the contest with a fresh take on an old favorite.

"We're playing off of our name and doing a baja chili with black beans and lots of cilantro. It's a brand new recipe that I've tried out and I think we're going to do well with it," he said, adding that going with a previous champion is still a risky decision. "If something new and fresh comes into play -- it's always nice to have a palate refresher. They have a good chance, but if it's the same old, same old ..."

And Dills knows. He had to make the decision as to whether to stay with a recipe he used two years ago as the Screaming Scuppernongs (Hinnant Vineyards and Winery was his team's sponsor) or to introduce a new flavor to complement his new team, made up of workers promoting Center Stage's performance of "A Christmas Carol" at the Paramount Theatre, Dec. 9 through 11.

"We didn't place," he said of the Scuppernong's previous result. "But I think that we made a good showing anyway. It's a new team. That means we need a new recipe."

Still, old habits die hard. Dills, a Hinnant employee, admitted there was some of the Pine Level wine in his recipe, but remained mum as to which of the vineyard's dozens of wine varieties he used.

Clarke Hill, the captain of Tres Hombres Calientes, won't be using wine in this year's batch of chili, but will definitely try to add some more heat, he said, after those who placed ahead of his team last year seemed to have had hotter recipes than his.

"We'll be tweaking it a little," he said of his team, made up of Goldsboro News-Argus employees.

Hill described his chili as more of a southwestern take on the popular dish that was thick and chunky.

The No Quarter Cooking Team also is working to increase the heat in its chili, captain Matthew Steed said.

Five East Carolina University graduates make up his team and none of them has any experience in the cook off.

His aunt, who also is competing, mentioned it to him and he called his older brother and friends and put together a recipe, though by the time Saturday rolls around the chili will be hotter and heartier.

The field will be set Tuesday when the last applications will be accepted. The fee to enter a team is $75, but the fun isn't just for competitors. Tasters can pay $5 -- $3 for children -- to taste each chili and cast their votes for the People's Choice winner through donations at each team's booth. The tasting will run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

Prizes will be given out for the first, second and third best chili in the competition, as well as one for best booth.

All proceeds will benefit the Community Soup Kitchen of Goldsboro.