I see City Weekend has posted the result of the Back-Alley Chilli Cook-Off at Great Leap Brewing a few weeks back on its blog. The winner chosen by their panel of celebrity chefs was... New Yorker John Korkidis' 'Hainan Yellow' Duck Chilli.
A (not very revealing) glimpse of the winning chilli
from City Weekend's website
As I mentioned in my earlier review of the event, this deserved credit as one of the most innovative efforts, one which attempted to "re-invent" chilli with local ingredients. For me, though, the bold ambition just didn't come off. I wouldn't say it was nasty, but it was fairly unappealing - very nearly dead last in my personal appraisal of the dishes on offer. The Hainan yellow chillis were its strongest point, bringing a complex and subtle blend of sweet & hot. The use of duck as the main meat content, however, didn't work at all for me: duck doesn't take well to stewing - it loses most of its flavour, and breaks down into long chewy fibres. The pale colour and stringy texture were pretty unattractive; and it just didn't have any essence of 'chilli-ness' about it, none of the other spices - garlic, cumin - that give the dish its characteristic flavour (John's recipe, posted at the end of the CW blog piece, suggests that he included some, but I wasn't tasting much of them!). And it didn't have an awful lot of heat about it, either. I like my chillis fairly robust on the HOT factor!
I think this rather odd choice goes to show that chefs tend to overrate cheffy-ness. Chilli is one of the most down-home, basic comfort foods in the world. It doesn't need to be at all FANCY; it just needs to be hearty and spicy. It was little surprise that the popular vote went to the Santorum chilli, one of the simplest - and hottest - on offer.
John K's duck dish was certainly interesting, and I can imagine it working well as a thick stew (with a bit of rebalancing of the flavours, and the use of whole pieces of duck, sautéed separately and added to the mixture fairly late, to prevent it breaking up) - something akin to south-east Asian curries. It just wasn't a 'chilli'.