Brad Nelson, the head chef at the La Quinta Hotel, has spent every spare minute for the last two months in his kitchen working on chili recipes.
He would seem to have few spare minutes.
Not only does he do the cooking with his virtuoso staff for the hotel's main dining room, the Adobe Grill and the restaurant called Morgan's, but he supervises all of the cooking produced by the hotel. That includes wedding champagne suppers, bar mitzvah banquets, high teas in the main lounge (with cucumber sandwiches in bread sliced so thin you could read the King James Bible through it) and tiny cakes topped with marzipan flowers and bows served in the elegant lounge off the lobby.
Maybe it was a reaction to all of that frilly food that prompted the 30-year-old Nelson to present the City of La Quinta with a Chili Roundup.
It was held in one of the large rooms in the hotel and offered samples of eight kinds of chili from booths set up around the room. Nelson, with the help of his inspired minions, created every single chili recipe. He was there wearing snakeskin boots, jeans and a straw cowboy hat.
Large royal-blue Italian palazzo umbrellas made islands of color. The merry villagers and the hotel guests circled the room, testing the chili. They were served small portions in plastic cups and every chili was accompanied by a small cup of beer or ale Nelson had chosen as the perfect accompaniment.
I saw a lot of people I knew among the 300 people who had decided chili sampling would be a dandy way to wile away a desert afternoon. Among them was the Bruce Baumann family. He is my dentist, a large handsome man. His wife is Janniffer, a small, pretty woman with a sense of humor. They have three children, Chelsea, 8, Nicholas, 6, and Palmer, 2.
Bruce Baumann explains the boys' names: "My dream is to have someone call some Sunday morning and I will be able to say, 'I'm sorry I can't see you. I'm playing golf with Nicholas and Palmer.' "
No, that's not the way Jack Nicklaus spells his name, but daddy thought he had taken his little whimsy far enough. If the boys prefer tennis or swimming, I do hope he won't be too disappointed.
After the people tried their small dishes of chili they were able to go back and buy a large bowl with the brews.
The chilis were Diamond Back served with Rattlesnake beer, Rocky Mountain High with Wheaton Ale, Duck and Black Bean with Pacifico, Buffalo Breath with Red Back, Smoked Rabbit and Three Bean with Chihuahua, Muckleshoot with Carte Blanche, Cherry Borracho with dark Dos Equis and Firehouse with Anchor Steam.
I got the recipes. A few of the exotic ingredients would turn you into a tea and toast person. Some were buffalo, pumpkin seed, venison, bear, juniper berries, cinnamon sticks, Muscovy duck, sherry, chicken breasts, skinned rattlesnake, elephant garlic, oysters and smoked rabbit.
I tried three of the chili varieties--The Muckleshoot because of the irresistible name, Duck and Black Bean and Firehouse. They were all superb.
One guest was swaggering through the chili testers with a strawberry pink bottle of antacid in a holster on his hip.
Nelson is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. He has been invited to take part in an event put on by the best hotel chefs in America on Sept. 11.
He will go to the residence where the legendary James Beard lived for 30 years in Greenwich Village and be among chefs paying homage to Beard. Nelson will present foods he has created for the Adobe Grill at the La Quinta Hotel. The event is sponsored by the James Beard Foundation.