First Annual Chilli Cook-Off

23 April 2017, Bareknuckle BBQ

There’s something delicious about watching people in pain. We feel for them but that intense show of emotion – tears streaming, sweat sprouting, the shakes, the retching – is so raw and our empathy so heightened that we feel intensely human and part of something. Either that or we’re just voyeuristic sadists.

It’s a feast for us this First Annual Chilli Cook Off. Sensational. In its purest form: attacking all our senses: The big sounds of Fat Freddy’s MC Slave and Scotty Towers. The smell of chilli in a thousand varieties. The feeling of a big crowd all involved in one thing. The taste of hot food and cold beer, the very best of both. And the look of a mid-west cook out, Americana hoe down meets Kiwiana down home.

This is the brainchild of Jimmy and Tam Macken at Bareknuckle BBQ. An afternoon in the sun with families and mates and dates all scooting over and sharing at picnic tables, playing Corn Hole and Horseshoe Toss. The event itself is a chilli cook off with 30 chillis served up by a dozen contestants. There’s tastings of each, which takes a good hour for those taking the exercise seriously and five minutes for the ones who have a mate they’re determined to back. Most of these cooks have taken days of care over their pots and the results are impressive and delicious.

Then there’s the chilli eating competition. Eleven different types of chilli from a tequila with chilli oil to a chilli olive to a Carolina Reaper – the winner eats two and half of those – to a stuffed jalapeno even I would eat. Later there’s a chilli dog eating competition of which I’m pretty sure no-one approves, but that seems right too. Because there is an edginess here. Like this much sun, this much beer, this much fried food and smoked meat, this much laughter and cringing and public displays of sweat and tears (and vomit) just can’t be okay. But somehow it is. It’s rare to find an event that has a sort of purposeless purpose – who cares who won – that’s for families, that’s a bit rough and ready and naughty but harmless, that doesn’t ask too much of us and that gives us space to celebrate, at a very base-level, what it is to be human.


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