Hundreds of judges from across the country prepare to crown the newest chili champion at the Grand Sierra Resort Oct. 16-18.
For three days in mid-October, the Grand Sierra Resort will host the International Chili Society's 49th annual World Championship Chili Cookoff, a first for the resort. Aspiring chili champions will have to pass the taste-test of between 250 and 300 judges who will gather to help crown this year's winner.
The judges, a mix of special guests, past champions and certified chili judges, have a specific set of requirements they look for in the perfect bowl of chili.
"We used to say, 30-45 years ago, vote for the chili you liked best," said Carol Hancock, chief executive officer of the ICS and past world champion herself.
Judging has definitely evolved since then.
Each judge will be responsible for tasting no more than 20 bowls in one of the four main categories: traditional red chili, chili verde, salsa and homestyle chili. While the types of chili differ, rules for the judges stay the same. The may not discuss the chili with other judges at the table, must maintain a "poker face" while tasting and may go back as many times as they like to taste the chili. At the end of each round, which include seven to eight tables of chili per category, the judges' votes will advance the top five finalists to the "big judges" – and chance at the $25,000 grand prize – on Sunday.
The final judges' table will comprise a mix of Reno VIPs and chili professionals, who will be looking for the right mix of spices, proper texture, good color and above all else, great flavor. Representing Reno at this year's judges' table will be Mayor Hillary Schieve and GSR Executive Chef Jerry Ignatich, who will sit alongside previously crowned chili champions and the editor of a chili-centric magazine.
Mayor Schieve will also play judge for the firehouse chili cookoff portion of the event, happening the first day of competition on Oct. 16. For this special event, five firehouses from around the Reno area will bring their own special firehouse chili, with one house being crowned best by Schieve and a panel of previous world champions.
Interested in a chance to judge some of the chili for yourself? Hancock said that for the homestyle category emcees likely will choose members of the crowd to come up on stage, taste the chili and help choose the homestyle champion. "We do not use ICS judges for the homestyle category because they'll be looking for different standards," Hancock said. Trained chili judges will not expect beans in a proper chili, for example, but those are allowed in the homestyle category, where rules are looser and state that cooks may use their "favorite combination of ingredients resulting in a dish seasoned with chili peppers and spices."
Those looking to add "certified chili judge" to their resume may take the ICS classes that will be offered at the GSR in conjunction with the cookoff. Classes will be held at 3:30 p.m Oct. 15 and at 7:30 a.m. Oct. 16. The class is taught by ICS WCCC Chief Judge Steve Porter, will cost $65 to attend and will result in a personalized name badge and certificate of completion stating standing as a ICS Certified Chili Judge.