Hip Cooking Contests with Matt Timms
-Francine Segan, food+home editor
In New York, a city known for its sophisticated foodies, celeb chefs, and four-star restaurants, Matt Timms pulls off an amazing feat. He organizes small scale, creative cooking competitions – Takedowns. His first, a Chili Takedown, seared onto the scene in the winter of 2005, and since its smashing success he has added Bacon, Fondue, Salsa, Tofu and even Cookie Takedowns.
“I’m totally encouraging people to take crazy risks and do stupid stuff. It’s so fun to see them succeed or fail spectacularly,” laughs Timms.
The competitions are open to amateur and home cooks who compete for money, prizes and bragging rights. Young, hip Twittering New York foodies flock to the events, which for an entrance fee of $10, allows them to taste (and help judge) the 20-plus entries during the two-hour. The next competition NYC event is a Curry Takedown on June 14.
Timms, an actor and comedian who is working on a cookbook, is taking his Takedowns national on June 28, with a chili competition in Boston where you can expect anything from traditional beef chili to veggie, pork, crab, chicken, and even candy chili!. For more details visit chili-takedown.com.
I recently had a chance to catch up with Timms and ask him a few questions about these hip, new cooking contests.
FS: Folks have submitted some pretty weird stuff for your Takedowns, like Bacon Ice-Cream. What are some other memorable horrible entries?
Timms: Crab chili — It was brutal, all white and looked more like vomit than chili.
Back when I was begging people to enter my early takedowns, my buddy Sean acquiesced. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know his way around a kitchen at all. He made a canned crab chili that looked like vomit. He is the world’s sweetest guy, which is sad because here I am telling the world that his chili, which he made as a testament to our friendship, looked and tasted like vomit. Sorry Sean.
My old roommate entered the first fondue contest with a brilliant idea: a Cheez Whiz fondue. Only the lowest-grade cheese need apply. He mixed Velveeta and other highly processed, whizzy products to create a fondue that literally glowed orange in the pan. It got one vote.
FS: Exceptionally yummy past winners?
Timms: At the last Tofu Takedown in Manhattan, this dude, Harry, made chocolate bonbons with liquid insides of rosewater and tofu – those … were all like wow!
This dude, Monte, has been a repeat offender at many a chili takedown, and has perfected a chocolate chili made with Belgian chocolate and tear-the-roof-off Habaneras. The best part is his recipe is too spicy for most people, so on two different occasions, I’ve been able to take his leftovers home and eat it for the rest of the week. This is a good thing, because never during a takedown have I been able to eat a single bite – I’m too busy- and even if I’m not, my guts are tied in knots, and I can’t stomach a single bite.
FS: So what weird and wacky contests do you have coming up?
Timms: Besides lots of chili takedowns across the country, I’ve got plans for a lamb takedown and also a liver takedown.
FS: How did your contests get such a cult following?
Timms: The coverage of these takedowns has snowballed over the years – from my own e-mail list, to articles in the NY Times and even a spot on Good Morning America. Part of the intrigue of these takedowns comes from my artist, Matt Langland, who always dreams up amazing signage for each event – warrior princesses, dragons and demons, and even Satan himself! Chili is either defended, enjoyed or defeated in his stunning artwork.
FS: You’re the chili guy, so what’s your favorite recipe?
Timms: Here’s the chili recipe I make most often:
THE TIMMS CHILI
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds chopped steak
1 pound ground beef
10 ounces pepperoni, de-cased, cubed
1 large yellow onion chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
5 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon dry Basil
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1⁄4 cup Worcestershire
1⁄4 cup Frank’s Hot Sauce
2 cans beer
1⁄4 bottle red wine
2 beef bullion cubes
1 can (28oz) whole tomatoes
1⁄4 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 bay leaves
Brown the meats in the oil with the onion, bell pepper and garlic in a large stock pot. Then add all the rest of the ingredients and simmer on low for 3 hours, stirring occasionally. Remove the bay leaves before serving.