The dishes on display were as diverse as the boroughs from which they came. Some competitors opted for the more traditional variety - orange in hue with ground beef and al dente beans as the star - while some took a few creative liberties, such as competitors from the Bronx, who presented a steaming bowl of wine-colored lamb chili.
Far Rockaway’s Engine 264 put an Italian spin on nearly every component of their dish, substituting Italian sweet sausage for the traditional ground meat, provolone for cheddar, and heaping the finished chili on buttered pasta.
“I stole it from somewhere years ago and tweaked it a little,” said fireman Berni O’Hara, spooning the steaming chili onto the noodles. Having honed the recipe for years, he said he thought he had a strong chance at victory.
“I think we got a good shot at winning,” he said. “I like our chances.”
Danny Basey of Engine 248 in Flatbush, who manned his table solo after colleagues from his station weren’t able to attend, presented a more traditional dish, albeit with a subtle twist.
“It’s a traditional recipe, but I add in a braised beef stew with the peppers and onions,” he said.
The recipe, which calls for cooking the braised stew in a separate pot for thirty minutes before adding it into the traditional chili, is a routine meal at the station.
The dish is a combination of numerous recipes various colleagues at the station have contributed over the years, tested and refined into the final melting pot he served that day, and weekly at the station.
“We serve this a lot,” he said.
After hours of prep and cooking times, the contestants gingerly ladled their chilis into bowls, careful to garnish just enough cheese, sour cream or chives, and walked their dishes over to the judges.
Lead by Jeff Baruch, executive chef of Rego Park seafood restaurant London Lennie’s, the panel was tasked with crowning a winner based on specific criteria, including heat and flavor. After a half-hour of tastings and deliberations, Flatbush’s beef-stew hybrid was crowned victorious.
“All the chili’s were great, but the winner distinguished itself in terms of flavor, consistency, and the heat it projected,” said judge Timothy Pearson, director of security at Resorts World.
O’Hara, of the provolone-pasta camp, conceded that the loss had at least been to a worthy adversary.
“We lost to a good chili,” he said.
As Basey was presented with a glimmering trophy and a check for $5,000 to non-profit Friends of Firefighters, he said his day’s success could be attributed to the stew.
“It was the texture of the braised meat,” he said, holding his trophy into the air. “It stayed in nice chunks. When you bite into it, it just falls apart.”
And what about his colleagues, of whose recipes the winning dish was in part devised, but who hadn’t made it to the day’s cook-off? Was the trophy theirs as well?
“Maybe I’ll let them take a picture with it,” he said.