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Posted on Tue, Mar 23, 2010 : 6:30 a.m.

Scenes from the A2 Civic Theatre Chili Cook-Off

By Mary Bilyeu

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Act I, Scene I

I had read about the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's first-ever Chili Cook-Off and Beer Tasting fundraiser, to be held at the Corner Brewery on Saturday, March 20, here on a couple of weeks ago. I immediately called, wondering if amateurs were welcome to compete; I was given a resounding "Yes!" and happily awaited information and details.

Chili Cook-OffJPG

Thomas Boulan, Photographer

Alas, they didn't come. I am a proud Neoluddite for many reasons, things getting lost in cyberspace being just one of them; and I got so busy and distracted that I forgot to follow up (hanging my head in shame as I type this).

Act I, Scene 2

So imagine my surprise on Friday afternoon the 19th the day before the event! when I received an email confirming my participation and asking for the name of my entry. Well, I usually like a bit more than 24 hours for prepping; but what the heck? Let's do it! I immediately emailed back that my entry was called "Beef 'n' Beer Chili" ... yeah, I know, not very snazzy; but I didn't want to impede anyone's progress by delaying as I waited for an epiphany.

Act I, Scene 3

Then off I went to the grocery store, gathered up some ground beef, hunted for chorizo (which was oddly placed next to Morningstar Farms products and chicken patties, rather than in the far more logical space with other sausages), picked a gorgeous assortment of colored peppers and went straight home to start cooking. I chopped, I sautéed, I stirred, and I plopped everything into the crockpot to start transforming basic ingredients into something sublime.

Act I, Scene 4

My chili cooked as Tom and I schlepped through several stores looking for table decor, since I'd been invited to happify an out-of-date word that I love! my tasting station. A chili pepper motif was the obvious choice, so we started with that in mind since we were rushed. But not only was nothing available with that pattern, it wasn't really how I wanted to represent myself ... I'm a girly-girl, prissy, and wear more pink than someone my age probably should; I also tend to wear sparkly -- not just frosted, but glittery -- nail polish in colors like purple and gold.  And I am from New York City, after all, not from the Southwest!

pink frame and bottle.JPG
And then, lo and behold,

we found the perfect item at Value World ... oh, it was so "me" I could have made it myself if I'd thought of it: a pink feathered picture frame, perfect for displaying the name of my new blog Food Floozie, a woman who can be seduced by virtually any food (other than sushi). We had our centerpiece and proceeded to build around it.

The dollar store offered kitschy pink flowers to put in the (now empty) bottle of Corona I'd used in making the chili. Tom found a hot pink child's plate divided into three sections, perfect for resting the ladle we'd bought at Value World (which just also happened to be virtually the same shade of green as my crockpot), as well as vivid pink place mats and a pink-and-white checked dishtowel. Everything came together perfectly ... especially once I determined that I would complete the ensemble by wearing my pink tiara.

Act II, Scene I

On Saturday, I re-heated the chili in the crockpot throughout the day, printed copies of my recipe for handing out, and puttered around finalizing details until it was time to arrive at the event. There was lots of activity as the silent auction items were displayed, as contestants set up their stations and chit-chatted with each other, as customers mingled and investigated the goings-on and as the folks from the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre welcomed everyone with warm, wonderful smiles and lots of encouragement.

And then, the rush. Lots of folks had bought tickets, and were trying every one of the 10 chilis that had been provided. Tom shared samples of everything with me, from a chili that had won multiple trophies in other events to a vegetarian variety with mushrooms to one that contained significant quantities of bacon this last one being Tom's favorite ... even over mine, I think...

There was much frivolity, lots of laughter, so many people that my voice is still hoarse from yelling over the noise, compliments, questions ... an utter whirlwind. Each of the judges -- John Fischer, chef at Gratzi; Martin Contreras, owner and head chef of autBar; and Julie Halpert, restaurant reviewer for stopped by and were enthusiastic tasters with a very difficult job to do. Everyone always thinks it would be wonderful to eat with abandon, but with great power comes great responsibility. I wouldn't have wanted their job.

Although the event had been billed as lasting from 5 to 8 p.m., it was so immensely popular and well-attended that my chili ran out at about 5:45 p.m., with others falling like dominoes shortly after me. One final, sad man came up to me as I was unplugging my crockpot, and all I could offer was a scraping of the last tidbits ... which he happily and enthusiastically scooped up with a plastic spoon!

Act II, Scene 2

Donation Jar.JPG
And then, the moment of truth: awards for Best Presentation, Best Use of Creative Ingredients, People's Choice Award (determined by $1 contributions to jars placed at each station) and other categories. But, alas, despite having received much praise and return visits for seconds, my chili didn't garner anything more than verbal kudos.

I had so much fun, and for a great cause, too, that it was okay. And rumor has it that this fundraiser was such a success that there might be a repeat performance sometime; I'll keep my tiara shiny and sparkly, just in case ....


For those who couldn't attend the cook-off or who didn't get to try my chili (which I was pretty proud of, if I may pat my own pink-and-purple-clad back), here is my recipe for Beef 'n' Beer Chili. It's got more zest than its inane title would indicate, but not the lip-searing (and utterly pointless, to my mind) blister-inducing heat that many people seem to like in their chili. Spice it up, or tame it, as you see fit ... and enjoy!

Chili with Cheese and Fritos.JPG

The very last sample, which I'd fortunately saved for Jeremy to taste; in all the commotion, I forgot to take a picture of my chili!!!

Beef 'n' Beer Chili

1 pound ground chuck
1 pound chorizo

Cook over medium-high heat in a large skillet until beef is browned; place into a large

1 medium red onion, chopped
1 large red pepper, chopped
1 large yellow pepper, chopped
1 large orange pepper, chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded, minced

Sauté in the same skillet until softened; add to crockpot.

1 1.25-ounce packet hot chili seasoning mix
1 16-ounce jar black bean and corn salsa
1 14.5-ounce can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
1 12-ounce package frozen corn, thawed
1 15-ounce can chili hot beans
2 mangos, peeled, chopped
1 tablespoon seasoned salt
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 3.5-ounce Green & Black's Maya Gold chocolate bar, chopped
1 cup Mexican beer

Add remaining ingredients to crockpot; stir. Cook on low heat for 8 hours or so, stirring occasionally.

Mary Bilyeu has won or placed in more than 60 cooking contests and writes about her adventures as she tries to win prizes, feeds hungry teenagers and other loved ones, and generally just has fun in the kitchen. The phrase "You Should Only Be Happy" (written in Hebrew on the stone pictured next to the blog's title) comes from Deuteronomy 16:15 and is a wish for all her readers as they cook along with her ... may you always be happy here!

You can contact Mary at or follow her on Twitter ( And look for her new food blog:



Tue, Mar 23, 2010 : 1:29 p.m.

Mary, it was great to have you as a contestant--alas we didn't get to try your chili on Saturday either, but we can now make it ourselves. And your tiara was a wonderful touch. What a successful event it was, indeed! We've had so many people ask us about doing it again next year, including the judges, that we're already planning the next Chili Cook-Off. Stay tuned!

Black Francis

Tue, Mar 23, 2010 : 6:20 a.m.

Sounds good, looks good, can't wait to try it. You should've won something at least for the picture frame!