Needlepoint Class - Chuck Poulsen  

The chili champs

“You are our ringer,” I said to Max before the Hearts on Fire Mexican chili cook-off.

“What does the word ‘ringer’ mean?” asked Max.

I explained that I once played on a softball team. We excelled in mediocrity but topped the league in beer drinking.

A team member knew an NHL defenceman (think slapshot). I don't recall his name. Sorry, I've searched. I'm not a hockey fan and it was some 25 years ago but he was a top level player. This being summer, he joined our team for a game.

The first time up, he hit the ball further than anyone I had ever seen. He jogged to second base, and then walked home where we waited for the winded outfielder to retrieve the ball. And so the rest of the game went, our most glorious victory.

“The hockey player was our ringer then,” I told Max. “You are the ringer for our team in the chili cook-off.”

Max is only 20 but he graduated from an Austrian chefs’ school at 18 and has worked at a 5-star hotel in Salzburg for two years. He wanted some international experience and, because the owner of a nearby resort is a friend of the Austrian family, Max ended up in a Mexican kitchen for a six-month stay.

He is a quiet-spoken and polite young guy and as you can see from his picture, there isn’t a senorita for miles who hasn’t trumped up a reason to visit the resort for a smile at him.

Said a woman who teaches Spanish lessons here: “He’s cute as a button. He’s in my class and all the women want to sit at his table.”

The cook-off is the main fundraiser for the free spay/neuter clinics in our area, which my wife, Lesley, was instrumental in starting. There are more dogs in Mexico than people and many of the dogs, through disease, starvation or injury, die a painful and early death. Over the past few years, thousands of unwanted dogs and cats aren’t suffering on the streets because of the clinics.

Lesley and I paid the bill for the ingredients. Seagull, a Mexican dog we rescued as a pup and took back to Canada, was backup taster. Max was the boss. He had his own chili recipe. Max speaks reasonable English but wrote out the ingredients in Austrian. The resort owner translated the ingredients into Spanish.

Lesley, along with a friend who speaks fluent Spanish and English, headed into the Big Smoke of Tepic (pop 300,000). I mean “big smoke” literally because there is a sugar cane plant in the town that has never heard of a carbon footprint.

The shopping expedition took seven hours to gather the long list of ingredients. Finding paprika took a lot of time because it isn’t much used in Mexico.

I told Lesley she could have borrowed some from the resort.

Said Lesley: “&%### didn’t you tell me that before?” The first part of that sentence she said in Spanish so I didn’t understand her.

Max cooked the chili in our kitchen two days early so it could “cure” in the fridge for the Sunday event. He chopped up stuff as fast as one of those TV chefs and tasted and tasted.

“We need more chili powder,” he said, and off I went.

One of the entries in the contest was vegetarian chili. No offence to vegans, but this is not real chili. Max’s meat stock was half ground beef and half ground pork. That’s a start for real chili.

There was a big turnout. Max’s chili won by a landslide.

“It was a rout,” I said to Max.

Said Max: “What does the word ‘rout’ mean?”

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