CHILI COOKS ABOUND in this country, as do recipes for this Southwestern specialty. Some cooks are vociferous about their chili-making skills, while others quietly turn out sinus-clearing bowls of red in a most matter-of-fact manner.
Sandy Duncan, who is starring this season on the TV sitcom "Valerie's Family" (NBC, Monday nights at 8:30 p.m.), fits well into the latter category. She makes an understated chili that has a lot going for it.
In the first place, being a genuine Texan, Duncan appreciates that although chili should have a good bite, the spiciness shouldn't be so overpowering that it destroys the flavors of the rest of the ingredients. Her TTT (True Tyler Texas) Chili is excellent. The sweet tomato flavor of catsup and the good, rich, beefy flavor of the round steak are easily discernible with just the right amount of "afterbite" of chili powder; it enhances them but doesn't hide them. This is a good family chili--not so hot that the kids won't eat it, yet spicy enough for a real chili fan. Serve it with a salad and beans on the side, if you must, but crisp oyster or saltine crackers will be even better for a simple meal.
Good flavor and texture are not all that Duncan's chili has to offer. This is a chili that from start to finish only takes about an hour to cook. Add 10 to 15 minutes of easy preparation time and you'll be able to feed a batch of hungry chili lovers in short order.
With the International Chili Society's annual cook-off scheduled for next Sunday at the old Tropico Gold Mine near Rosamond, Calif., Duncan agreed to share her Texas-style chili recipe in order to remind chili-heads everywhere that the chili event of the year is upon us. As usual, this year's cook-off is drawing competitive chili makers from all over the world. When the loudspeaker blasts out the order to "light up your stoves," there will be 75 different teams from as far away as Germany and Australia with matches at the ready. Most of the teams have won at least one preliminary contest to make it to the big one, so they know that the competition for the $25,000 first prize will be tough. In all, the finalists will be competing for $35,000 in prizes.
This is the 21st year for the ICS cook-off, which since its inception has earned well over $10 million for various charities throughout the country. The ICS sanctions local and state preliminary cook-offs that are held during the year. One of the provisos for sanctioning such events is that all of the cook-offs are nonprofit, charitable affairs that benefit local or national charities. This year's World Championship Cook-off will benefit the Kiwanis Hi-Desert and Lancaster Chamber of Commerce charities.
Every year to the chili finals at Rosamond a crowd of onlookers comes to see celebrity judges such as Corbin Bernsen of "L.A. Law" and Linda Gray of "Dallas." Other celebrities who will be there include renowned chili-heads such as actor Ernest Borgnine, auto maker and designer Carroll Shelby and game-show host Peter Marshall.
Some of the thousands who attend the cook-off each year go to listen to the bluegrass bands that provide foot-stomping music throughout the daylong event. There's the flyby of the fabled Condor Squadron, a collection of flying enthusiasts in old AT-6s who, besides staging a mock air battle, manage each year to decimate a battered outhouse perched on the ridge of a nearby hill by bombing it with bags of flour.
There's the Miss Chili Pepper Contest, an anachronism today but a competition that is greeted with noisy approval by the many chili lovers. Then there's the showmanship contest, demonstrating what cook-off contestants such as the Wild 'n' Woolly Western Chili team have to offer, or the Big Dog Chili group or the Gold Dust Dancers or the 1880 Gunfighters. Some groups sing, some dance and others just act and look silly, to the delight of their audience. The whole day is filled with dust, heat and lots of campy fun.
The Tropico Gold Mine has a decayed, ramshackle old ghost-town atmosphere about it that makes it a perfect location for the annual gathering of chili fans. It's located 10 miles north of the Lancaster area near Rosamond. Many of those who turn out each year to watch the fun arrive in RVs the day before and make it a full weekend celebration. Whether you go for the weekend or just for the day, you'll be more comfortable in knockabout clothes and good walking shoes. The terrain is rocky, dusty and desolate; it's the perfect spot to cook up a terrific bowl of chili.
International Chili Cook-off
Sunday, Oct. 25, 9 a.m to 5 p.m.
Tropico Gold Mine, Rosamond
Admission: $7 adult, $2 children 12 and under
VIP passes, $50 (includes special parking, fried-chicken lunch, free drinks and a guaranteed hotel reservation)
Plenty of RV parking, no hookups
For further information: Phone ICS office, (714) 631-1780
SANDY DUNCAN'S TTT CHILI (True Tyler Texas Chili)
5 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup beer