Lupe Pintos' Chilli Cook-Off aims to find the best chilli in Glasgow and Edinburgh
World food store owner Dougie Bell talks to us about the meaty day out
Back again for its third year running (or the second, in the case of its younger Edinburgh leg), independent world food store Lupe Pintos’ Chili Cook-Off is an inspired idea, a challenge to ten bars and restaurants in the vicinity of their Glasgow and Edinburgh stores to create the perfect chili and submit it for a day of judgement by their customers. £10 gets you an entry ticket, a fifty gram tub of chili at each venue and a scorecard to pass your own verdict. Or, as Lupe Pintos’ owner and the Cook-Off’s organiser Dougie Bell has it, ‘half a kilo of chilli and a good day out.’
Inspired by a conversation with a couple of customers in which one complained that Great Western Road is a long way to come from Glasgow’s Southside and another pointed out it was hardly the Wild West, the idea for Bell’s scorecard ‘shootout’ was born. For those who are turned off by chilli’s popular reputation as the overdone token Mexican option on pub food menus, one of his first priorities is to make the Cook-Off about the flavour of the dish. ‘Don’t make it hot,’ is his first rule. ‘Any fool can do that. The scorecard is for taste, texture and originality, and I reckon it’s originality that most people win it on. I tend to find that anyone who makes it hot gets a low score.’
So what does make a good chilli? ‘It should be very flavoursome,’ he says. ‘As with all good Mexican food its down to the blending of the chillies, to balancing one, two, three or four chillies with a handful of spices, and you need a good pile of stock and good quality meat and produce too. Every year it’s becoming more of a culinary competition. To be honest with you, I’ve been making chilli for years but I’d be really nervous in that competition. Just the depth of flavour, the sweeteners, the chillies used, I could identify so many colours and textures. All I’m looking for is something a wee bit different, mince and kidney beans just won’t do it.’
So how can the contestants go about making sure their chilli stands out? ‘I won’t mention any names,’ he says by way of example, ‘but somebody put haggis in their chilli last year and it was fantastic. That’s pretty original. Everybody was trying to identify a particular sweetener that somebody used, because like all foods it’s about the balance between sweet and sour, and I got wind that it was mirin, the sweet Japanese vinegar that’s used in sushi. And it was stunning. Another thing is the way you cook the meat, doing it in different styles. People have slow roasted pork joints and braised beef for hours in beer or wine. There’s been a lot of really good culinary stuff done.’
Having been in business for more than twenty years, his inspiration coming from youthful journeys to Spain to do the Keith Floyd trail and to visit friends in Los Angeles, where he was introduced to South American cooking, Bell has seen the current craze for American ‘dirty food’ like pulled pork and gourmet hot dogs evolve. ‘In the last five years I’ve noticed a massive surge in that style of food, and there are two reasons for this,’ he says. ‘Man v Food and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, it’s those two programmes that have really captured people’s imagination, as happened to me when I ate my way across the States. They’ve got people looking round more, they’re asking how to make pulled pork, they’re learning about classic combinations.
‘To put it into perspective,’ he finishes, ‘the most popular recipe I’ve ever published in a book or on my website is for Lupe Pintos Famous Chilli Con Carne, which gets downloaded off my website fifty or sixty times a week. It’s a hard one to put to rest, and of course people who use that recipe make their own alterations to it. anything that gets people cooking is fantastic.’
Various venues, Edinburgh, Sat 28 Sep; various venues, Glasgow, Sat 19 Oct. See chilicookoff.co.uk for more info.