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by Peter Simmons

“Don’t you think you’re taking this whole thing a little too seriously” my wife retorts in a soft yet utterly condescending tone. It’s accompanied by “The Look”, the look that only women possess and has taken millions of years to evolve. It’s the look that has toppled empires and defeated world leaders. “How can you say that” I reply in a pathetic attempt to salvage what little is left of my male dignity. “We’re talking about the chili cook-off here, there’s a lot riding on this.” Why does she fail to understand what is so clear to every male I know? This, after all, is our ski club’s annual chili-cook-off and it’s the clash of titans.

“You know you’re the only one that cares about this.” She lets fly another arrow that pierces my heart.  “I’m the defending champion, haven’t you heard Frank’s sarcastic comments. I know he’s up to something.  Did you see that little play he tried last year, claiming he was going with chicken all ski season and then showing up with beef, deceitful bastard.”

“Instead of putting me down you might offer to help,” I reply in an attempt to move on.” 

 “Fine, where’s the recipe” she inquires in an exasperated tone. 

“It’s in the safe, I’ll get it.” 

“I’ll help you but you open the window shades right now or I’m walking out of this house.”

This year I have a surprise up my sleeve and one they will never expect. This year I’m going with ground turkey. Every time I’ve found myself riding the chair lift with one of my rivals I’ve hinted at pork to throw them off track, two can play at that game.

“Isn’t that a lot of chili peppers for 2 pounds of meat, I know you call it 3-alarm chili but…”  At this point my wife is close to calling 911 to report that her husband of 21 years has turned into a deranged psycho-cook.  “You do realize it’s 7am and the chili-fest isn’t until 4pm this afternoon, right?” 

“Pass me the mango,” I reply ignoring this latest in a series of barbs. 

We arrive at the hall and one of the most critical choices in chili-cook-off strategy, placement of your Crock-Pot. Judging is done by club members who move along the table taking a sample of each chili and then casting a secret ballot. The chili is identified by a number and only the organizer knows who cooked what. Positioning the pot at the front of the line is a common rooky mistake; people either pass right by while grabbing for a plastic fork and cardboard bowl or they score it low because they have no basis for comparison. Placing yourself at the end is also wrong as members have either already chosen a winner or are just too full to take a taste. Besides, that puts you perilously close to the dessert table which of course is the kiss of death. I like to go for a middle spot right next to the grated cheese; it gives you at least a 3 to 4 point advantage.

Last but not least are the backroom deals. An oath to play fair is great for the Olympics but this is war. The anonymity is a façade, veteran cooks use all kinds of tricks to let their friends know which pot is theirs. 

“Well, it looks like I’m due for a new Crock-Pot my one has a crack in the handle.” There’s the gesture across the room to a potential ally, a brush to the side of the nose with a forefinger acknowledging the fix is in.

Once again I am victorious and once again I have taken my wife’s patience to the brink, but it’s all been worth it just to see the look on Frank’s face. He begrudgingly shakes my hand and I congratulate him on a delicious chili, I won so I can afford to be generous. I hold up the trophy for picture taking. 

I smile and think to myself, “I just can’t believe Frank didn’t notice that I moved his chili to the front of the line.”

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