UK Chilli Stand Off 2012

This Saturday I had the pleasure of attending my very first Tweat Up event. I had heard about them first through The Londoner’s blog post on Chilli Stand Off 2011. I followed their other events (Ribstock, Rumstock, and Ginstock) this year from across the Atlantic through tweets and blogs, kicking myself for not staying in London during the bunting and street party filled summer.

On November 17th, my well-whetted appetite for delicious food and fierce competition was finally satisfied. Chilli Stand Off 2012 was held at a warehouse event space in Hackney overlooking some pretty epic industrial scenery.

I arrived right at 4 pm when the second round of tastings were due to start. I turned in my coat and scarf at the desk – I’d be plenty warm enough where I was heading – and ascended the stairs, scorecard in hand. Upon opening the door, I was greeted by a wave of music, chatter, and the delicious scent of meat and spice. There was nothing to be done but jump right in.

Positioned strategically next to the door was Gizzi Erskine with her “Great Balls of Fire” chilli. She served it up with a smile, explaining the ingredients of her 5 hour slow-cooked recipe: beef rib, shin, and cheek, pork belly, and ham hock, topped off with a cheddar fondue, cornbread, coriander, and lettuce. It was delicious with a slow but tolerable burn, and just a little on the sweeter side, which is something I like in a chilli. The coriander brightened it up perfectly.

Next up I migrated across the room, picking up my first free beer along the way, to check out the Whitechapel Gallery Dining Room’s offering, simply called “Emma’s Whitechapel Chilli”. This chilli from Angela Hartnett and Emma Duggan sounded work intensive: 6 litres of tamari, Tabasco, and Worchestershire sauce cooked down into a syrup for the base; beef brisket cooked overnight; tomato sauce, ginger, chilli, and garlic; and finally, 70% Valrhona chocolate. They topped it off with little dollops of sour cream, fresh grated cheese, and an optional fresh lime squeeze. It was a good, solid chilli with no heat; unfortunately it was nothing that really stood out in my mind.

I went for Tom Parker-Bowles’ “10 Alarm Chilli” next. With a name like that, I was scared stepping up to the counter, and no less intimidated as I had the chilli explained to me: beef shin, beef stock, 9 herbs and spices, peanut oil, and lashings of three kinds of pepper (Ancho, habanero, and smoked chipotle). This was topped with crushed pork scratchings, sour cream, coriander, and cheese. I felt fine after the first few bites; soon, however, I was descending slowly into a very fiery pit of conflicted feelings. I wanted to finish the chilli, yet I was unable to handle the slow-building, intense burn. It was a good chilli, made unique by the pork scratching topping, but I felt it had more to offer in the heat rather than the flavour department.

Next was Lucky Chip, who conveniently had their “True Grit” chilli neatly summarized on a sign.

I asked if there was anything else they wanted to mention, and the guy said that there were “too many chillis to list, we’d be here for hours.” It was served straight up, with no toppings offered. It didn’t look quite as photogenic as some of the other entries, but what it lacked in beauty it made up for in sheer uniqueness of flavour. Bringing the cup close to my face, I could smell the smoked vanilla. I expected the first bite to be meaty and sweet all at once. Yet despite having vanilla, it was not really sweet at all; the only thing that can sum up this chilli was “smoky”. S-M-O-K-Y in all capitals. Like having a bbq smokehouse take up residence in your mouth. It was rich, complex, a little bit spicy, and did I mention smoky? For me, this immediately tied for the top spot with Gizzi’s chilli.

Also, check out what they used to stir it.

Totally badass.

I claimed my second gratis beer on the way over to check out “Chilli Chilli Bang Bang”, from Stevie Parle and Emma Grazette of Spice Trip. They explained proudly that this was the only true Mexican chilli on offer at the competition, consisting of a traditional adobo base, tomatoes, chipotle, beef, pork, snoked bacon, cumin, and a bit of dark chocolate. It was topped off with dollops of fresh guacamole and queso fresco and a sprinkle of chopped coriander. It was a deliciously spiced chilli with little to no heat. The cumin was the most prominent note and there was no sweetness to it whatsoever. For me this meant that it didn’t rank too highly on my personal list, but I imagine plenty of people enjoyed it, especially combined with the fresh avocado in the guacamole.

Next up was a very photogenic and fancy chilli by Will Yates, “Burn the Other Cheek”, featuring three-day slow-cooked pork, ox, and venison cheeks and 9 kinds of chilli. It was topped off with Nduja and chipotle infused cheese, limed sour cream, a beef jerky skewer, tortilla chips, and a fried jalapeno with bacon. Phew! It sounded complex and ambitious and it certainly entertained my taste buds as much as I thought it would. It was a bit sweet, a bit spicy, and the cheese and sour cream topping really took it to the next level.

At this point, I was slowing down, but felt determined to give every chilli a fair chance. Tim Anderson’s “Pacific Ring of Fire” chilli was next on my list. Thankfully, this wasn’t an allusion to burn-your-face-off heat, but rather what went into the chilli. Like Lucky Chip, these guys also helpfully displayed their ingredients for people to look at, in a user-friendly map form. Chef Anderson goes into more detail on his blog here. It was a complex and interesting dish, but for me it wasn’t really a “chilli”. It had a gamey aftertaste to it, probably from the elk, and seemed more like a stew or goulash. To me the best part was the chunk of soft sour cream and onion infused cheese.

Next to last was Dishoom’s offering, “Slumdog Chillionaire”. They probably had the best PR at the whole event, offering vouchers for a free cocktail in their restaurant, stick-on bindi jewels and fake moustaches, and a sample of their own Dishoom IPA. As I waited for my chilli to be dished up, they explained to me that theirs was a lamb chilli with medium spice, topped off with fried onion, fried chilli, lime, and a piece of fried bread.  The IPA was excellent, with notes of what I am told was orange peel, and it paired wonderfully with the chilli. The chilli, though, was not really a chilli – it was basically a curry. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, which I did, but not as much as the other chillis.

Last but certainly not least was Mark Gevaux, a.k.a. The Ribman. I was told early in the evening to leave his chilli for last because it would “f—ing ruin my taste buds”. I have had his delicious rib rolls from Brick Lane before (an amazing stomach-filling bargain) and heard horror stories/resounding praise about his hot sauces. For this event, he teamed up with food blogger Adam Layton, who provided the recipe for the chilli. I timidly asked for a cup, asking if it had much heat to it. He said that his was a proper Texan chilli, meaning no beans, with pork rib meat that had been barbecued, braised, and then added to the chilli. It was finished off with a bit of his Holy Fuck sauce and dark chocolate. There was a squeezy bottle of the infamous hot sauce sitting there, ready for any daring/suicidal takers, but I was not one of them. The chilli was overwhelmingly porky, which is far from being a bad thing, and very different from all the other offerings. Surprisingly, it had very little heat. Feeling cocky, I put about a 5p sized speck of Holy Fuck hot sauce and mixed it in thoroughly. Two bites later, my scalp was tingling, my forehead was sweating, my tongue was burning, and my eyes were welling up with tears. This hot sauce is one truly best left to pros and fanatics!

Offering a bit of solace to those with suffering taste buds were the kind guys at Gelupo, with their creamy chocolate-chilli gelato. It had a kick of its own, more so than some of the chillis, but the delicious, sweet coldness helped calm down my burning mouth. They normally reside in Soho; after this sample and seeing tons of rave reviews on Twitter, I will definitely be seeking them out for more.

The best surprise of the night for me were the sweet, airy puffs of delight from the Meringue Girls. They had a beautiful display of mini-meringue “kisses”, with flavours like raspberry, hazelnut, green tea, rosewater with pistachio, and lemon. These were topped with a bit of whipped cream, a blueberry, and dried raspberry. The meringues were the perfect size for popping in your mouth and savouring as the outer crust burst in a puff to give way to a chewy centre. They were very generous, and I ended up having three (green tea, rosewater, and raspberry), which were all to die for. (I am super excited that they will be at the next KERB event this coming Thursday!)

It was time to turn in my scorecard – the second most important vote I will have casted this month!

Stuffed and with my civic chilli duty taken care of, I settled down in front of the stage for some toe-tapping blues from Oliver Darling while the votes were being counted.

Only 40 minutes later, we had our answer: Third place went to Dishoom’s “Slumdog Chillionaire”, second place went to Will Yates’ “Burn the Other Cheek”, and the winner was Lucky Chip with their unique “True Grit”. The prize of £2000 chilli-infused pounds and a very shiny trophy was presented by the guest judge, John Torode. The guys at Lucky Chip seemed over the moon, and promptly put their trophy to good use as a giant goblet for booze. True champions.

Chilli Stand Off tickets were £40 (£35 earlybird) and included generous samplings of all 9 chillis, two beers, a rather large and rather strong tequila cocktail, creamy gelato and airy mini-meringues – not to mention awesome tunes and good company. Don’t wince at the price – it’s a bargain for all the amazing food, drinks, music and vibes you get. I can’t recommend this enough!

The upcoming year is sure to be full of foodie delight, with Tweat Up already planning Ribstock 2013, Eastival, Crabstock, Chickenstock, and hopefully Chilli Stand Off 2013. Whatever they do, you will be sure to see me there, voting card in hand and a big satisfied smile on my face!

(Trouble viewing pics on your mobile? Click here for the Flickr set!)


  1. As a vegetarian, I fear it was not the event for me :-) Lovely write up though and great pictures. Nice to see you saved the best ’til last: the gelupo and mini-meringues looked lovely. One day I am definitely going to have to make it up to Kerb. Very envious about the blues too.


    • You’re a veggie? Who knew! Who knows, maybe next year someone will try their hand at veggie chilli… ;)

  2. Ah, been reading about this for a couple of weeks on Twitter but didn’t get off my bum. Thanks for taking me there with great writing and lovely pics.

  3. Good work Kate! You’ve reminded me of a great afternoon, it was much fun!
    Bring on the next one…
    (I’ll catch you later for taking my pic without the appropriate modelling fee ; )

  4. Excellent article – great descriptions of the food and atmosphere. Makes me want to try my hand at the next chilli (chili) cook-off in my area. Perhaps London needs to be introduced to a Cajun crawfish chilli???

  5. Kate: great blog. Somehow the chili looks different to what we eat in Colorado. It was, however, good to see that Taco Belle was absent from the line up……..

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