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BRUCE’s Chili

Submitted by on November 12, 2009 – 5:25 PMNo Comment
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The Judges Table

The Judges Table

On a typical weekend evening, Brooklyn’s Barcade is crowded with happy drinkers plugging quarters into ancient arcade machines. On November 8, even typically busy games like “Ms. Pac-man” and “Donkey Kong” were ignored by the large crowd that gathered in the Brooklyn bar. That evening Barcade was the venue for the 5th annual Brooklyn Underground Chili Extravaganza (BRUCE), where 10 local chili cooks put their best recipe up for judgment.

Armed with two beers, lime sorbet and fashionable headbands, the ten BRUCE judges chosen from the crowd sampled the ten chilies, and scored them based on flavor, aroma, look,  spice level, originality and if the taster would want seconds. First time judge Marissa Marvelli had a great time judging, but had difficulty tackling 10 servings of chili.  “I’m paying for it now,” Marvelli said. “This is my first time standing up since… judging. It was a little too much food.”

Originality plays a major role in BRUCE, as contestants are pressured into expanding beyond the traditional ideas of chili, which led to some strange results. Ingredients ranged from lamb to Spaghetti-Os, with one chili even boasting alligator meat in the mix. The unique use of alligator meat met with mixed results amongst the judges. “I’ve never had gator meat before,” said Marvelli, “and I don’t want to have it again.” However, Chris Shutzer, another first time judge, felt the opposite. “One guy put gator in there, which I loved… I hope the gator wins.”

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Winner Jeff Rush and wife Heather Rush in front of BRUCE trophy

The winner of this year’s competition was Jeff Rush, a bartender at Manhattan’s Crocodile Lounge, whose vegan chili “Crock Rockin’ Never Blockin’ Veggie Black Magic” wowed judges with its depth of flavor and bold choice of ingredients. Rush placed third in last year’s competition and he altered his recipe several times in preparation for BRUCE. This year, his chili contained fresh vegetables and beans, cocoa powder and coffee from Gimme! Coffee, a Brooklyn-based roaster. Rush, like many in the competition, used beer to finish off his chili, opting for the dark Otter Creek Stone Pipe Porter to round off the flavor.

Rush, who has been making chili for over 15 years, took pride in his vegan chili taking the title. “The thing with mine is that it’s as vegetarian chili [and] a lot of people think it’s really limiting,” Rush said, “but to me I think that meat is really limiting… [Cooking without meat] just opens up a whole world of different spices and veggies and seasonings.” He continued, “It just lends itself to using your brain so much more and using so much more creativity than thinking about what cut of meat you’re going to use.”