Friday, December 5, 2014

San Diego, CA and the Riunite Chili Cook-Off

In October I took part in the Riunite Chili Cook-Off and won my region! I felt pretty proud to win a chili cook-off in TX of all places, and was so excited for the next phase, which was held in San Diego, CA
I can't put into words how excited I was to get back to CA and see the city that means so much to Louis and me again. After Hurricane Katrina, Louis was given an opportunity to work there and we moved to a little town right outside of San Diego called Encinitas. We were married there, our son was born there and we haven't been back in six years! There were so many memories that came flooding back to me as we made our way around the city. At the airport we got in our car and headed straight to one of our favorite spots, Las Olas. While living nearby, we brought anyone that visited us here and it was one of the first places I tried fish tacos!
 It was just as delicious as I remembered it! I tried the Peppered Pineapple Margarita that delivered a serious kick- if you are timid with spice do not get this one! Louis knew what he was ordering before we even got there- the Mixed Seafood Chile Relleno which was served with rice and beans. I got the Mixed Seafood Sauté which was large shrimp, fish and scallops sautéed with white wine, butter, garlic, cilantro, tomato, onion and chile served with cabbage salad and beans. By the time we were finished we were stuffed and walked across the street to the beach
The water was cold, the beach was beautiful and in that moment I couldn't ask for more from life
The next morning was the Cook-Off finals!
We didn't have to be at the stadium until 10am, so we found a cute little café to have brunch at first. Café 21 is absolutely adorable and the menu was quite impressive. Just reading it gave me a handful of ideas on dishes I could create myself once I got back home. I LOVE and adore brunch and reading the menu made it hard to decide what to settle on. I got the raspberry mimosa which did not disappoint. Two of my favorite things in a glass to start the day off sounded like a perfect plan to me. When Louis told the waitress that he'd like a Bloody Mary she replied "red, yellow or green?"
Say What?!
Looking at the dumfounded expressions on our faces she then explained to us that they make all of their drink mixes from scratch and they offer a traditional red, yellow heirloom and a green tomato tomatillo bloody mary. She recommended the yellow one, and Louis is unable to tell people no, so he got it. He really didn't care for it but I thought the sweetness and lack of overt acidity was wonderful. To eat, Louis got the Short Rib Cast Iron Omelet with Fig and Chai Tea Marinated Beef Short Rib, Bell Pepper, Caramelized Onions and Gorgonzola Cheese. The picture doesn't do this dish justice. It was absolutely moan-worthy! I got the Shrimp Corn Cakes- shrimp, sweet corn, potato and  Mozzarella Cheese cakes with Cilantro Cream Sauce. I live for Benedicts of any kind but I was disappointed with this one. The plate was gorgeous but was seriously lacking seasoning. I would definitely try Café 21 again, but I would order a different entrée.
When we were done eating we headed over to the Chargers Stadium for the final Cook-Off
I had a bit of trouble throughout the morning once we got there, which really stressed me out. This is the first cook-off I had been in where we were required to bring our dish already prepared with us. I made my chili the day before, double sealed it in FoodSaver bags and then proceeded to blow TSA's mind by walking like a crazy person through airport security with bagged chili and a fresh pineapple.
(It kind of reminded me of the SATC episode where Carrie is in jury duty and the old man brings a coconut, a pineapple and random things with him each day in his briefcase) 
Because the chili was previously frozen, it was still icy once we got to the tailgating site. We were all provided with crockpots to heat our chili up in, but the generator that my crockpot was plugged into kept shutting off. Over, and over and over. Then the judging time was moved up earlier and I was freaking out. Like total and complete panic mode. I would have felt humiliated if I had served judges ice cold chili. Certain things taste ok if it's not absolutely warmed through. Chili is not one of those things.
I was able to get my dish heated the way I wanted at the last second, and I served the best plate I could. After the judging we had one more fish taco stop before heading home!
 In the end, I didn't win the finals BUT.... I  made amazingly sweet new friends (Hi Ronna, Shana and Donna!!) and I had a free trip to San Diego with my husband. I feel like I was lucky to get the experience and I hope we don't wait another six years to visit again!


  1. Hi Lauren! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog post about the Reunite Chili Challenge Cook Off! What fun we had on that gorgeous Sunday at the Charger's stadium! It was great getting to know you in person, and I hope we get together at another cook off soon!!!! xoxo

  2. I LOVE San Diego, lived there for about 5 years. Actually right across the street from Qualcom Stadium where you were a rock star along with some of our foodie friends in the Chili cook-off. Random I just finished the Chili Cook-Off chapter in Cookoff by Amy Sutherland. How amazing you lived in Encinitas, beautiful. And looks like we like the same kind of good eats, I can eat a proper eggs benny any time of the day! Or a quality fish taco!


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