It's time for the Clayton Club Saloon's annual chili cook-off, and last year's winner Naomi Orcutt said she hopes to win first place again.
"I'm using my same recipe because it did so well last year," said the Clayton Club bartender. "But, I may tweak it ... I don't know."
Nathan Verduzco of Concord and a bouncer at the Clayton Club, decided to turn up the competition heat this year and add his slow cooker of chili to the judge's table.
Verduzco said he entered, "because it sounded like a fun event and it is always fun to see who can come up with the best chili." He thought his chances of winning were "pretty good."
Verduzco said he likes to cook all organic, but hasn't decided what meat he is going to use. He is leaning toward turkey, but may use venison. Whatever the choice, he'll cook it the night before so it'll be ready for the cook-off.
Orcutt won last year using turkey and chicken sausage, surprising professional caterer and long-standing winner Bob Coonradt of Concord.
Steve Barton, owner of the Clayton Club, said the competition is open to 20 competitors. Chili must be cooked at home and brought hot to the club in an electric crock pot or slow cooker and when plugged in, kept on the low setting. All contestants must be registered by 11 a.m.
The Clayton Club Chili Cook-off -- with its roots planted firmly in tradition and not rules -- began before Barton purchased the historic saloon from its former owner in 2007. Allowing for a few hiatus years during its history, chili makers have brought their pots to the downtown landmark to be judged for 14 years.
Unlike many cooking competitions that dictate what ingredients may be used and judges with scoring sheets peering over chef's shoulders as they prepare their dishes, the Clayton Club Chili Cook-off has only one rule that will bounce a chef from the competition: "No canned chili is allowed!" Other than that pretty much anything goes.
But there are judges. And to win the competition, the prestige and the monetary prizes for first, second and third, contenders' dishes must score high with each judge.
Clayton Councilman Howard Geller said when he tastes the chili, he checks for meat tenderness and too-spicy sauce.
"We try and have a criteria," he said.
The criteria is aroma, color, texture and aftertaste. Last year, judges scored from one to five. This year they will score from 1-10 to make it easier to arrive at a scoring consensus.
"It is a blind tasting," said Geller. "There is a number on each chili. We don't know who the number belongs to."
Geller has been judging the cook-off for at least four years. He will be joined again this year by Councilman Jim Diaz and Clayton Pioneer publisher Rob Steiner. Barton said he hasn't received confirmation yet from the police chief.
Although the cook-off is a Clayton tradition, it draws competitors and visitors countywide.
"You'd be surprised how far out people come from," said Geller.
People begin arriving about the same time the chili. Once the tasting is finished, the winners announced and awards handed out -- $300 for first, $200 for second, and $100 for third, it is time for the audience to begin tasting and debate their favorites.
WHAT: Fourteenth Clayton Club Saloon Chili Cook-off
WHEN: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday, March 2. Contestants begin setting up at 10:30 a.m.; judging begins at noon; winners announced and prizes awarded at 1 p.m., followed by free tasting
WHERE: Clayton Club Saloon, 6096 Main St., Clayton
FEE: $15 registration fee (limited to 20 contestants); public free