Chili Cookoff at Clarendon Day

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Next Saturday, Sept. 27, Clarendon Day will descend on Arlington, Virginia with eight stuffed blocks of fun. A 10K, bands, beer, a Kids Zone, arts-and-crafts vendors and a ton of food will all be a part of making 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. fun.

But I would like to direct your attention to the new Lagunitas Chili Cookoff Stage where -- under the new 100-seat tent -- beer will flow from the Lagunitas beer garden, bands will rock, and our dear friend Thad Halcli will once again go toe-to-toe with other chili greats at the DC Chili Cookoff.

Last year was the first year the former DC Chili Cookoff -- once a rowdy, beer-soaked festival in the District -- was held at Clarendon Day. That beer-and-band free-for-all was what first got Thad hooked on the idea of cooking chili for competition. A digital marketer and filmmaker who always had a flair for cooking, Thad began entering area chili cookoffs in 2000 with a schtick: His young daughter and a friend would dress as cowgirls and do a little dance for the crowd. They called their booth, "Two-Step Chili."

 Joe and Thad, Rage Against the Cuisine.

Joe and Thad, Rage Against the Cuisine.

Now that young daughter is a college student. Thad and longtime friend Joe Duffus now produce red and green chills under the name "Rage Against the Cuisine."  

Do you have any idea how much work goes into producing chili for these competitions? I didn't. First of all, competitors are under a strict set of rules about what can and CANNOT go into a chili. "It's a very specific Texas-style chili," Thad said. "There can be no beans, no pasta. At some point, when the generations change, I hope the idea of chili will be a little bit broader than it is now."

Secondly, competitors have to provide all of their own equipment to cook at the competition and their setup has to be up to health code standards. That means providing stoves, burners, pans, coolers, water, ways to sanitize, ways to keep your meats and veggies separate, ways to serve it, tents, and trailers to haul the whole set up there and away. "It's like you're bringing your own mini-food truck," Thad said.

Lastly, all that chili served to the judges and all those little cups of chili that you, the eager taste-tester, can try -- that's all at the expense of the participants. Thad said competitions used to offer a small stipend to help cover participants' costs for the chili they would serve eventgoers. No longer. 

"It can be exhilarating if you win," Thad said. "But if you fail, you come back dragging dogeared."

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Thad knows that exhilaration. Rage Against the Cuisine has placed second through fifth all around the region. Once, at a Maryland chili cook off, they tied for first. But a toss of a coin determined that the other team would move on to the World Championship competition.

He's hoping to have another shot at it this year. "I'm a relentless competitor, no matter what I'm doing," Thad said. "But these competitions, they're also a way to be outdoors on a nice day, hanging out with your buddy and drinking a beer."

He likes the DC Chili Cookoff's transition from a beer-laden spectacle -- public nudity and booths manned by strippers were a common sight -- to a more family-friendly event. He and his daughter always attended Clarendon Day, even before the cookoff moved there. 

"Clarendon Day is a classic street fair," he said. "There are a lot of family activities and stages for music. It is always on my list as a fun thing to do."


Clarendon Day

Saturday, September 27, 2014; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Clarendon Boulevard and Wilson Boulevard between Washington and Highland, Arlington, VA