I’ve judged a few chili cook-offs in my day, but I was beyond honored to be asked to judge Southwest Airline’s 39th and Last Chili Cook-off (and no, it’s not really the last, but I’ll explain that later.) Although many tried and true chili recipes have passed these lips, I’ve never had the pleasure of tasting real-deal, authentic Texas chili. When we arrived at the event, held at Sandy Lake Park just outside of Dallas, I met with my fellow judges to learn the rating criteria and The Dish Trip crew got to work filming and tweeting all the fun for us to share.
Sandy Lake is chock-full of traditional fairground fun, from rides and amusement tents to games and, of course, tables of teams offering up their homemade chili. Made with lots of love from the LUV airline, this chili cook-off is a true company event where more than 4,000 employees, families and friends come annually to offer their support. The energy and excitement in the air was just enough to pull me from the lure of the tilt-a-whirl and bumper cars to focus on my judging duties.
As a judge, the first step was to rate each team’s Showmanship through their fun decorations, music, themes and skits. We all had a good laugh over the Communications Department (including the Emerging Media Team) political campaign spoof where opponents Rick Centercut and Pinto Fartenheimer debated the qualities of all-beef chili or chili with beans. The elaborate skit included protesters, folks “occupying” Sandy Lake and even incriminating evidence against a candidate a la Watergate. One of my favorite team displays was from the Maintenance team, which had a covered wagon on display, a cast-iron cauldron, an open grill and a talented band strumming and singing traditional Texan tunes. This is their go-to routine every year, but it was new to this girl. Maybe it was the tourist in me but it won my heart as a traditional Texas display. We left the winner of Best Showmanship up to the attendees and the vote for most applause went to The Communications Department!
Showmanship: Best in Show
1st Place – Culture and Communications
2nd Place – Maintenance Production (Chuck Wagon)
3rd Place – SWAPA
For the second step it was time to get a taste of the chilis. The blind tasting included lots of chilis with various heat levels and combinations. I was told that “real” Texas chili has no beans and should make your spoon stand up. The ones I liked the most had a variety of meats and, according to the teams, they used anything from venison and wild boar to pork. One team even joked that they used fresh roadkill (I hope they were kidding?). The judges weighed in with the following winners:
Top-Five Chili Cooks: Judges’ Choice
1st Place – Maintenance Control
2nd Place – SWAPA
3rd Place – M&E Regulatory Compliance
4th Place – Finance
5th Place – Cabin Services
There are few times in my life that I’d consider it a good idea to eat more than 20 types of chili and then go on amusement park rides. This was one of those few times. One of our Dish Trippers, Danielle, didn’t handle the combo very well (sorry, Danielle!) but it was a great way to end Southwest Airlines’ 39th and Last Chili Cook-off with. This company knows how to party! Kudos to SWA for having such an amazing company culture. It was a true honor to be a part of this incredible annual event.
And just in case you all were wondering, each Cook-off is named the "__th and Last" as a tribute to the first Cook-off. When it started there was serious doubt whether Southwest would still be in business to host another Cook-off, so it was named the "First and Last Chili Cook-off."
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