Don Vito Corleone said, “Revenge is a dish best served cold,” but Brooke Stankiewicz’s award-winning “God Father’s Favorite Chili” is almost certainly better hot.
And winning sure tastes sweet.
Brooke, a 14-year-old ninth-grader, took home top honors in the Friends of Milton Public Library’s 2018 Chili Cook-Off on February 11, besting seven other competitors.
“There were some veteran chili-makers there,” Brooke reflected. “I tasted a few of them, and they were pretty incredible, so I was thinking maybe one of them might have won.”
But Brooke’s entry was deemed the crowd favorite at the cook-off that capped the town’s winter festival. She borrowed the recipe from her best friend, Leah, who lives in Long Island, the Stankiewiczes’ native land.
Leah’s grandfather is Sicilian, hence the recipe’s reference to Mario Puzo’s Corleone family, Brooke’s mom, Kathy, said.
Previous chili cook-off winners have allowed the Independent to reprint their recipe, but Kathy Stankiewicz said this one was borrowed on the condition to keep it secret.
Brooke was happy to describe the flavor, however. It uses lots of spices, like cumin, onion and chili powder, plus Italian sausage instead of regular ground beef. The heat builds by the end of your bite, but Brooke wouldn’t classify it as “spicy.”
“It’s not like a, ‘I really need milk after this’ kind of chili,” she said.
Brooke started out in the kitchen as a baker at age 8, helping her mom frost cupcakes and then eventually making her own batter. She’s since worked up to Texas sheet cake and pumpkin coffeecake.
Kathy prefers baking to cooking but has made an effort to show her kids the basics of both, she said. When Brooke’s twin brother joined the school’s Junior Iron Chef team, Brooke decided she wanted to cook, too.
“It would be nice to have some of the skills found in cooking later on for when I move on to college, and, I guess, regular life,” she said.
Plus, cooking affords more creativity and flexibility than the scientific methods employed in baking, she said. As such, she practiced and practiced until she got the right proportions – and until her mom was sick of eating the dish.
“I was having chili out my ears,” Kathy said, laughing.
Brooke tested the recipe out on her brothers, too, and they helped her decide when it tasted just right.
Still, on the day of the competition, Brooke got nervous. Standing behind the serving line, she would have a front-row view of taster’s yuck-faces, should her chili elicit them.
But it didn’t happen. Instead, people paid her compliments, and many returned for a full bowl serving.
“The people kept coming and the line just kept going, and [when] we realized it seemed like a lot of people enjoyed it, it was more relaxing,” Brooke said. “It was nice to see people who just enjoyed our recipe.”
For her efforts, Brooke received an apropos gift card to Chili’s restaurant, which she and her family have already spent.
Brooke and her mom encouraged any home cook to join the chili cook-off for its laid-back and supportive atmosphere. She’s already looking forward to next year.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” Brooke said, adding, “It’s such a welcoming community, so there’s really nothing that could go wrong.”