Boston may be Beantown, but this past Thursday it was Chili Town at Ned Devine’s 5th Annual Chili Cup. Three large rooms, 24 competing restaurants, and chili upon chili upon chili.
Before this event, chili was to me like that one guy in all my freshman classes. We were infrequent acquaintances with the potential for more but something (bad timing, wrong environment, social gaffes) kept getting in the way. Chili became a food I really had to be “in the mood” for, and it was often a gamble, leaving me disappointed. That all changed this week. Whether you’re a timid-taster, like I was, or a hardcore enthusiast, the Chili Cup is for you.
How an Irish pub became the force behind this chili extravaganza is just another lovable Boston quirk. But for the fifth year, local restaurants gathered to showcase their spicy stuff. The event supports Community Work Services, an organization that’s been helping people overcome barriers to employment for 137 years. CWS offers career training, such as a culinary program, and assists participants during every stage of their job journey. They help build the skills needed to obtain employment, like interviewing, and to maintain it, like managing workplace relationships. Their culinary program showed off its chops with a reindeer sausage chili.
The front bar room at Ned Devine’s featured a Corona rep with swag (free beer cozies!) and there was live music from Ryan Brooks Kelly in the third room, but my tasting partner and I bee-lined to the back to begin our tasting. We were a little overzealous at first and thought we could take on all 24 tasting cups without even a pack of Tums. We arrived at six and voting had to be in by 8:15. After four samples each, we realized we should be sharing the cups to get the most mileage from our tasting. After ten samples each, we didn’t know if we could ever eat chili again.
Favorites included Zo’s ground lamb and beef chili and Finch’s pork sausage and whiskey chili. I taste-tested locals like Cheers and Mija Cantina and tortilla chip company La Nina, but within the first twenty minutes of tasting, I had found my two winners.
Post 390 redefined chili for me with a wild boar and elk sample, topped with a blue corn chip. When I mentioned how phenomenal the corn chip was (not usually the word I use for a chip), they told me the secret to a great chili was having a pasty chef. That, or “shoot your own elk.” Suffice to say, they had an upper hand on some of their competitors. The chili was more sweet than spicy and if that’s what their pastry chef can do with a corn chip, I can’t imagine the deliciousness of their actual pastries.
Bambara also blew me away with their sirloin and pork chili, topped with a mini cornbread muffin. Chef Jay explained to me that it’s a typical competition chili, which means stew-ier and no beans. I had always seen beans as the bland, slightly chalky staple of chili, but this was a whole new world. This is a beloved and prize-winning recipe for Jay, whose secret to great chili is that they just love making it.
So it turns out, I do like chili and I actually have pretty good taste. Post 390 took runner-up and Bambara went home as Chili Cup Champ. Besides helping you forget the all the brown slushy snow in the streets of Boston, this event is a great way to add new restaurants to your must-eat list and helps you remember why you loved your favorites in the first place. I underestimated you, chili.