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Paynesville Press - January 19, 2005

Chili champ preparing for cook-off

By Bonnie Jo Hanson

Win or lose, the reigning local chili champion will still be smiling. Paul Oman, who has earned the distinction of being Paynesville's finest chili chef for the past two years, will defend his title at the annual chili cook-off at the Paynesville Area Center on Saturday.

This year, Oman plans to enter two chili recipes in the cook-off: his own chili (with a secret recipe) and his award-winning Lions Chili, which was won the chili cook-off the past two years. Oman actually began cooking chili for the Lions' annual fundraiser five years ago. He calls it "chili with a bite" and it is his favorite chili.

paul For the chili cook-off, Oman found it necessary to make a few changes to the recipe.When Oman and other Lions meet at his home to make chili for the Lions' fundraiser, they make 15 recipes using 160 pounds of ground beef. For the chili cook-off however, Oman scales the recipe back a bit (he makes three gallons using three pounds of meat) and uses tomatoes and peppers from his own garden. Plus, he adds a little more spice to give it even more bite.

Paul Oman, Paynesville's reigning chili champ, prepares his version of the Lions Club's recipe for the annual chili cook-off at the Paynesville Area Center on Saturday. Oman has won the past two years.

The Lions' recipe contains common chili ingredients, according to Oman, such as ground beef, garlic, chili powder, beans, and onions. What sets the chili apart when Oman makes it for the cook-off is the care that goes into making it, especially when he knows the proceeds will go to a good cause, he said.

Using this favorite recipe, Oman will spend a day in the kitchen of his Lake Koronis home, frying, stirring, measuring, and, of course, tasting the award winning-chili. He likes to wait until his wife Sharon has gone for the day to start making chili, so he can work undisturbed (and not worry about the mess).

The whole chili-making process will take the better part of a day, most of the time consumed by cutting and chopping. Oman, who likes to bake but does not do much cooking except for making chili twice a year, jokes that he's not very adept at cutting and chopping because he's a man. "I'm not as coordinated as a woman," he said laughing.

Actually, Sharon is better at chopping and cutting because she does most of the meal prepration at home. Her specialty is soup, he said, while he does most of the baking.

Even though it takes a while, he enjoys every step of the chili-making process, he said.

Oman likes sampling the chili at the cook-off, enjoying the range of recipes, from soupy broths to thick stews. Regardless of the type of chili, Oman has some opinions about how chili should be eaten. His own homemade cornbread is the perfect accompaniment for chili, he said. But he does not like putting sour cream in chili, however. It muddles the taste of the spices and the tomatoes and ruins the color, he said. "Sour cream degrades my chili," he explained, grinning.

This year, Oman will double his efforts at the chili cook-off by entering both recipes in the competition. Oman's own chili is so unique, he said, that revealing the ingredients will take away the anonymity that will be an important part of this year's chili competition.

"I'm working against myself now," said Oman, with a grin, about competing with two recipes.

During the competition, chili-lovers from throughout the area can pay $5 for a ticket that will allow them to taste each of the chili recipes entered (11 so far) and choose their favorite. Competitors will provide the chili, and the center will provide drinks (including lemonade to beat the heat), crackers, grated cheese, and sour cream.

The public judges can taste as many chili varieties as they like, and even have a bowl of their favorite, said Inez Jones, director of the Paynesville Area Center and organizer of the chili cook-off fundraiser. Most of the time, though, people taste so much chili that they are too full for a bowl, she added.

In the past, entrants ladled their own chili, and their recipes were posted by each chili pot. Oman believes that a healthy attendance of Lions members the past two years may have tipped the scale a bit by voting for his chili because they knew it was Lions' chili.

This year, tasting will be blind, said Jones, with the identity of the winning chili-maker to be revealed after the competition along with the recipes (if the cook is willing). Chili recipes that are hot or extra spicey will be identified, though.

The Paynesville Area Center Chili Cook-Off is open to anyone who makes chili, and Jones especially encourages non-profit groups that meet at the center to enter the competition and to sell advance tickets.

Since starting the competition, the numbers of entrants and judges has wavered, but this year Jones expects the best turnout yet. Entries are still being accepted for the chili cook-off.

The competition will last from 4:30 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 22. The public can come and sample and then cast their ballot before leaving. The winner will be announced around 7 p.m.

All proceeds will go the the Paynesville Area Center.

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