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Lynne Champlin, Coffee, Tea and Me: It’s chili time in the fall

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I like the fall season with the bright harvest moon, the leaves and grapevines turning color, the grape harvest and the chilly mornings. Buckets of rain would be a wonderful gift from the rain gods for us here in the Napa Valley. springs, rivers, lakes, and water tanks would be full again.

October is when Philip cooks this fall treat for us. He uses the award-winning “Outlaw Chili” recipe made famous years go by Judges Scott Snowden, Wes Walker and Phil Champlin. Many of you do not know about or remember the “Outlaws” chili fame.

Making the best chili in the Napa Valley was one of the fun things they did for relaxation. Their secret recipe was crafted by Judge Snowden. It was “trial and error” until perfect. Scott and his wife, Joann brought back some special peppers from one of their trips to New Mexico. Scott and his wife, Joann, experimented with the peppers and other secret ingredients until they decided it was ready for competition.

The Judges were a late entry to the 1986 Chili Ball and Cook-off. The event was sponsored by the Napa Valley Grape Growers as a benefit for the Napa Valley Agricultural Land Preservation Fund. Co-chairs were Margot Leonard and Rene di Rosa. Rene dressed up in an outrageous lime green suit and wore a silly “Cat in a Hat” floppy hat. Veronica di Rosa and Lee Hudson chaired the chili cook-off.

Scott’s wife, Joann Ortega Snowden is an artist whose beautiful paintings are on display in Napa’s historic courthouse. She designed our booth with bales of hay and corn stalks. She even had a terrific recipe for coleslaw that we made in large green garbage bags and which we served along with the taster cups of chili to the guests. Susan Pacey Walker and I were the “go-fers” and greeters.

The “boys” carefully chopped, prepared and blended the ingredients for Scott’s recipe and slowly added them to the large simmering pot. Constant stirring was necessary. Part of the secret was in the timing and having everything blend gradually.

This event was a huge success with 34 teams competing and 1,200 guests attending the event, held at the end of Whitehall Lane. It was a grand evening with dinner, wines, hot air balloon rides, a band and dancing around a huge bonfire. Even though “the boys” were a late entry, they won first prize in a double-blind tasting.

After winning this event the Judges continued to compete for the next two years. They named their team “Outlaw Chili” and dressed up in cowboy hats and shirts. They won two more competitions with blind tastings, to make it three in a row.

They felt that it was good public relations for people to see and meet their judges. However after their third victory was announced, there were some scattered good-natured boos mixed in with the applause from the crowd. They decided that maybe it was time to retire. So they did. They thought it was only right that others had a chance to win. They had a great time cooking and meeting people but it was time to go.

Philip was asked later to be a judge in a downtown Napa chili cook-off. He was pleased to be asked, so he accepted. There were over 30 contestants in this event. Their recipes included things like, “Road Kill Chili”, “Armadillo Chili”, “Red Hot Chili” and many, many more. He quickly discovered that the difference between making your own chili and being a chili judge is that you have to taste everyone else’s chili. So, he tasted and tasted and tasted all afternoon. Guess what? He came home with an upset and angry stomach. After that chili cook-off, he decided to stick to judging cases and not chili.

Yes, the recipe is still a secret and can only be published after their deaths — or they will come back to haunt you.

If you want to get your spook on, you had better get tickets quick! Buzz60’s Tony Spitz has the details.

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