Saturday, May 6, marks the 20th anniversary of the Great Petaluma Chili Cookoff, Salsa and Beer Tasting. I will be running the judging portion of the event, as well as procuring the liquor license so we can all enjoy beer and wine with all the great chili and salsa. Starting at 1 p.m., guests can taste more than 50 chilis and salsa, along with two dozen microbreweries, while enjoying live entertainment in the open-air beer garden.
Teams compete in professional and amateur categories, which include restaurants/caterers, businesses, service organizations and individuals. But don’t be misled by the word “amateur” because it isn’t unusual for an amateur team to take home the Grand Champion trophy.
In fact, the Tree Huggin’ Hippies, who competed in their first chili cookoff 20 years ago at the first Great Petaluma Chili Cookoff competition, have been winning awards ever since, including the state championships, as well as competing in the World Food Championships, which offer a “Gold Ticket” to the winners this event. This will be the Tree Huggin’ Hippies final competition so this will likely be your last chance to try their award winning chili.
Proceeds help fund Cinnabar Theater’s Young Rep program. Visit www.greatchilicookoff.com for more info.
Casa kids know how to cook
Casa Grande took home the Judges’ Award at this year’s Wine Country Chefs of Tomorrow event last week at John Ash & Co., Vintners Inn in Santa Rosa by out shining six other highly talented high school culinary programs. The event raises money for local high school culinary programs, but maybe more importantly, it raises awareness that these programs even exist. I was amazed to learn how many high schools offer these programs but also how large, diverse and in depth these programs are.
The seven teams represented Casa Grande, Maria Carrillo, El Molino, Healdsburg, Piner, Sonoma Valley and Windsor. Each team prepared a minimum of two appetizers, using ingredients from sponsors such as local favorites Petaluma Poultry, Clover Sonoma and Mycopia Gourmet Mushrooms. The People’s Choice award went to Maria Carrillo.
I had the honor of judging this event alongside an esteemed panel of judges and was blown away by what I saw and tasted. Along with fellow judges Steve Garner (co-host with John Ash of KSRO’s The Good Food Hour), Mark Johnston (executive chef for Petaluma Poultry), and Shari Sarabi (chef/owner of Baci Café & Wine Bar), we had to judge each school on everything from presentation to use and knowledge of ingredients.
Although all teams had their strengths, Casa Grande clearly put a lot of time, energy and thought into their entries and really blew the judges away. Their dishes were innovative enough to catch our interest, but still paid homage to their Thai-themed roots.
Each student seemed to know everything about each dish, and they even brought a bee hive display with live bees, from which they harvest honey at their Petaluma campus. I asked about the “Big House Catering” logo on their chefs coats and learned that they actually offer catering for parties up to 300.
Crocodile Short Ribs
Boneless short ribs have never tasted as good as those we had at Crocodile restaurant last Friday evening. We originally planned on only grabbing a couple of appetizers and drinks, but once I heard that their special was boneless short ribs, we stuck it out for dinner.