“It was all right there; the magic happened all right there,” eighth-grader Haley Dupont said, passionately pointing to her kitchen.
An excited smile stretched across her face, Haley reflected on her cooking experience that won her first place in this year’s annual chili cookoff, hosted by the Friends of the Library during Milton’s Winter Festival on Sunday, Feb. 12.
The youngest contestant present, Haley said she was surprised she won.
“There were some really good chilies out there,” she noted, saying she specifically set a time aside during the contest to try everyone’s concoctions.
About 14 chilies entered the running. Haley’s slow-cooker of chili, seasoned with a variety of spices, was devoured within an hour of the 11:30 a.m. kick-off time. Named “34-28” in honor of the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl LI win, Haley’s masterpiece had a special ingredient: cocoa.
Last year, Haley entered the cook-off for the first time after watching her mom compete. This year, she was determined to find a recipe with the chocolate component to bring her dish to the next level. She scoured the internet for a recipe that piqued her interest and modified it from there. When it came to adding chili powder, Haley decided to sauté the ingredient before adding it to the pot. In the past, she just threw it right in.
“It gives it more robust flavor,” Haley said.
“That’s what we heard, so we gave it a whirl,” her mother, Ella Dupont, added.
A few other modifications occurred when Haley, and her parents – or sous chefs – realized they weren’t equipped with some of the necessary ingredients. Haley began her food prep around 9 p.m. the night before the contest after returning home from a long day of skiing. While she was at the mountain, her mom set out for the grocery store.
Unfortunately, though, Ella Dupont left Haley’s list of ingredients on the counter at home. So when Haley began cooking, the clan brainstormed some improvisations based on the ingredients her mom brought home. Instead of beef broth, Haley dissolved bouillon cubes; when they ran out of onions — which Haley let her mom cut — they incorporated minced onion spice in the recipe.
The cooking process was a learning experience, said Haley, who discovered what sweating an onion was. Some aspects of cooking may be a bit unfamiliar to Haley, but when it comes to baking, she has her recipes locked down. Lemon meringue cupcakes, she said, are her specialty.
Because her chili was so successful, she said she’d make it again for her grandmother’s birthday. It was a special request, she explained, since the contents of her Crockpot had disappeared before her relative could taste it last month. While she planned to follow the same recipe for her grandmother, she said she might add some hot sauce into the mix in the future.
As for next year, however, she doesn’t plan on entering the cook-off.
“Maybe give somebody else another chance,” she said.
When she does decide to compete again, Haley will be the one going grocery shopping, Ella Dupont joked.
Haley won a $25 gift card to Hannaford for her efforts, but more importantly, she looks back on this year’s contest as a great
social opportunity — and a chance to work on her sales pitch, too.
“[You] gotta smile through the entire time. Smiles are very important,” she said, explaining how she spoke vibrantly across
the table to ask taste-testers if they’d like to try some of her chili.
Next to her stood Joanna Scott, Haley’s former teacher who inspired her cocoa kick. Together, the two teamed up to attract people to their pots.
“Overall it’s a very, very fun experience,” Haley said. “There’s a lot of conversation and there’s some cool Mexican music and everybody’s always really happy. I didn’t see a single unhappy person there.”
- 1 lb. ground beef
- 1 Tbs. olive oil
- 3 Tbs. minced onion
- 3 Tbs. minced garlic
- 3 Tbs. ground cumin
- 3 Tbs. chili powder
- 32 oz. crushed tomatoes
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
- 1 c. beef broth
- 1 oz. Tabasco sauce
- 2 tsp. Kosher salt
- 1 tsp. ground black pepper
- 3 16-oz. cans kidney beans
- 2 Tbs. cocoa powder
1. Brown beef in heavy sauce pan over medium high heat until fully browned. Drain in colander, set aside.
2. Wipe inside of pan and return to heat. Add oil, minced onion and garlic, and heat for 3-5 minutes. Add chili powder and cumin. Stir constantly to avoid burning.
3. Add beef broth to pan and stir. Add ground chuck and crushed tomatoes and bring to simmer.
4. Turn off heat. Add Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, oregano, salt, cocoa powder and black pepper to crock pot, then add ingredients from sauce pan to crock pot. Stir, and then cook on low for 3 hours.