Several years ago, I judged a chili contest. I have always been reluctant to participate in competitive food events, but I'm also always on the hunt for new ideas. I suspected it would be a fun event, so I dived in! There was a decent cross-section of types of chili at the competition - including Cincinnati chili served over spaghetti. The event had a few very "serious" chili makers, but most participants wanted to talk about and eat chili, which is why I found it fun. I had just finished working on several chili recipes myself, so the timing was right because "chili" was on my mind.
As far as what makes a great chili, in my opinion, chili doesn't just need heat. It can have heat - even a lot of it. But what definitively makes chili interesting is a depth of flavor. That means that you can't just throw in some chili powder and call it a day. In this recipe, cumin, oregano, several types of chilies including chipotle in adobo sauce all add up to complex flavor. As it simmers, it gives off an intoxicating aroma that will fill your kitchen and draw a crowd.
Chili is a communal dish. It contains sophisticated flavors, but it is anything but highbrow. It makes a fantastic casual centerpiece to a meal and is a great candidate for a signature dish that can become a family tradition.
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