Joey Taylor, a 15-year-old sophomore at Beatty High School, recently conquered the chili cook-off world in unprecedented fashion.
In the International Chili Society’s 53rd Annual World Championship Cook-off, held in Ankeny, Iowa, Taylor took the world champion title in all four categories in the youth division: traditional red, home-style, verde and veggie.
No one had ever achieved the “Grand Slam” before in either the youth or adult competition.
To be in the world championship, contestants had to win a regional cook-off. Taylor was up against 19 winning youth cooks in the home-style category, 15 in the traditional red, and 12 each in the verde and veggie categories.
Taylor told a television interviewer that the “biggest challenge would be the last 10 minutes, the last 10 minutes of each pot, because that’s when you actually like have to focus on your front bite, your flavor, your heat, everything.”
“Front bite,” Taylor explains is the “punch” of flavor that you get when you first get the chili in your mouth. “Flavor and heat” refer to things that stay with you as you continue eating.
Verde is Taylor’s favorite of the types of chili. Chili verde uses white meat instead of the usual tri-tip steak, and he uses pork tenderloin in his. Traditional red chili, he says, “is just meat and gravy,” while home-style can contain beans and vegetables. Veggie, of course, is vegetarian chili.
Asked what would be the most important ingredient in a great bowl of chili, Taylor responded, “Patience and focus.” He said it takes patience to spend three hours cooking a batch, and that without focus the flavor will not be right.
Taylor’s World Championship trophies, in the shape of cast-iron kettles, had to be driven to Beatty by car from Iowa. At 40 pounds apiece, they were simply too heavy to fly home with him.
He also received awards of either $1,000 or a $10,000 scholarship to the Des Moines Area Community College Culinary School, which he says is the third top culinary school in the country, for each of the categories he won.
Competitors cook about a gallon of each type of chili, turning a quart over to the judges for judging. As his mother put it, “Four quarts of chili brought a potential $40,000.”
Taylor comes by his chili cooking chops honestly. He is a fourth-generation chili cook.
His mother, his maternal grandparents, his paternal grandmother, and paternal grandparents have all competed in chili cook-offs, as have other family members, including a sister and a brother.
His grandparents, Fred and Patty Summers, are the owners of the Happy Burro Chili and Beer in Beatty, and one wall of the business is covered in chili awards won by family members.
Taylor says his other grandmother, Darlene Taylor, gets his chili powders from All Things Chili in California. “She sends them to me to try, and I sample them and put them in piles—the ones I like, and the ones I don’t.”
Visitors to Beatty Days this year will be able to sample Taylor’s chili in the event’s sanctioned chili cook-off, which will include a youth division this year.
“I didn’t want to cook in it because it will be my little sister’s first cook-off,” Taylor said, but his mother insisted that he do it.
Richard Stephens is a freelance reporter living in Beatty.