Wounded Minnow wins chili contestPublished 8:47am Friday, February 7, 2014
While the phrase “listen to your customers” is sound advice for any business, it led the Wounded Minnow to victory in the 2014 “Chili Crawl” cook-off competition.
The Minnow’s sweet and spicy chili bowl left quite the impression on tasters during the Dowagiac Ice Time Festival. The bar won first place over the four other local eateries who competed this year.
The secret to this year’s award-winning dish was the addition of three ingridents to Saloon’s tried and true chili recipe: merlot, cinnamon and cloves.
“It was a great flavor profile, and one that I had never seen in that type of chili before,” said owner Kyle Belew.
While the base of the dish was cooked up by the Minnow’s kitchen manager, Larry Dudley, the idea of adding the wine and cinnamon came from the head of Jeff Maxey, a retired postman who Belew refers to as the bar’s “Cliff Clavin,” referencing the character from the 1980s TV program “Cheers.”
“He’s a bonafide chili expert,” Belew said. “He’s one of the many foodies who likes to cook stuff from home and experiment with recipes.”
While the idea of adding wine to a spicy chili dish may be off-putting to some at first, Belew said that it gave it a distinctive sweet punch.
“It cooked down, and really brought the dish to life,” he said. “I though it was pretty good.”
Also contributing to the dish were Shaun Bruens and Jason Steinman, Belew’s stepson and future son-in-law, respectively.
“They added the cloves,” Belew said. “That was our special ingredient.”
The idea of allowing his regulars to tinker with the bar’s menu isn’t a new one for Belew and his staff, he said. The saloon would routinely have customers serve as guest chefs, who would prepare a special for the evening for their friends and family.
Those who missed out on the dish last week may still get another opportunity to try it, as Belew plans to replace their regular chili recipe with it when they revise their menu next month, he said.
While he was shocked and honored by the fact his restaurant won the chili crown this year, Belew said that he isn’t worked up about trying to retain the title next year.
“Winning the chili cook-off isn’t what’s important, it’s participating in it,” he said. “We’re lucky that such a small city has an event like this.”