On Thursday, September 24, the Round House Café Focus Group, an organization within the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC), hosted the sixth annual Red/Green Chili Contest at the Round House Café. This year, 17 contestants battled it out in a cook-off for this year’s best red/green chili.
“Why red or green chili?” you might wonder. Back when the Round House Café opened, Community members wanted to see more Native-inspired foods on the menu, such as cemait, tepary beans, pit beef, frybread and other Community-style recipes. During this same time, the Café had about 18 different cooks who came from various families, and all had different recipes in mind as well. So how do you decide on one recipe? A cook-off, of course.
“Of course everyone cooks differently. Everyone makes chili differently. Everyone makes frybread differently. We had chili samplings in the kitchen [one day], and it came down to ‘Your mom doesn’t make it like my mom,’” said Food Services Manager Paul Johnston, laughing. “Red/green chili is basically what Community-style chili is. It’s red pork/beef or green pork. The Round House Café serves red/green chili about once a month, and we use David Nash’s winning pork green chili and other Community recipes.”
The six judges were SRPMIC Council Representative David Antone, Kelly Washington and Shane Anton of the Cultural Resources Department, Carmen Briones from the Early Childhood Education Center, Rosalie Collins-Villalpando of the Defense Advocate Office and Juan Nieto of the Community Development Department. Briones, Collins-Villalpando and Nieto are also members of the Round House Café Focus Group, which works to come up with menu ideas and food-related activities to help Community members and employees enjoy their experiences at the Round House Café.
Contestant Morris “Mo” Manuel sat in the Round House Café watching the judges taste the various chilis, including his. With hopes of a third consecutive overall best win, he recalled entering his red beef chili for the last four out of six years.
“I worked as a cook most of my life, and I’ve also worked at Mexican restaurants,” said Manuel. “One day someone told me about this contest, and so I entered. I try not to make it too hot, but everyone is different. I just try to make it good [and flavorful]. Overall, it’s all for fun.”
Tribal employee Mark Gonzales was also a contestant in this year’s contest. His green chili placed second, which isn’t bad at all, since Gonzales calls himself the new kid on the block. Gonzales has been working for the Community for one month now—a great way to make an entrance.
“My family has been making chili for generations. My great-grandfather and grandfather homesteaded from Mexico to what is now Florence, Arizona. We come from a Hispanic food background. I saw the flyer and thought it would be a lot of fun, and strictly for bragging rights only,” said Gonzales.
Community member David Nash took home the grand prize this year, scoring 50 points overall for his green pork chili. Four of the six judges rated Nash’s chili as one of their favorites. First place went to Myrna Seletstewa (red chili) and Jonathan Williams (green chili). Second-place winners were Manuel (red chili) and Gonzales (green chili).
“Everyone gets involved in the contest, that’s what I like about it. Anybody can enter/judge, and it brings people together,” said Antone. When asked who made his favorite chili, Antone responded, “Tweety’s red chili.”
This year’s chili contest winners were announced at the Native American Recognition Day events later the same evening. Prizes presented were a $250 Walmart gift card and a trophy for the grand prize winner, a $100 Walmart gift card and a plaque for the two first-place winners, and a $50 Walmart gift card and a plaque for the two second-place winners.
It’s not too early to start cooking up your recipe for next year’s Red/Green Chili Contest. Keep calm and Chili On!