Sadly, today we took what is likely our final trip out to Chilly Chiles in Navan. The 19 year old store is closing permanently on Sunday, April 15. Perhaps you too saw the news late last week in the Ottawa Citizen article by Adam Feibel titled "Fiery food specialists say its time to chill".
We came to know about Chilly Chiles back in the late 90's when they had a retail storefront on Sussex Drive in the Byward Market area. Their business was then already 6 years old and they well understood everything hot and spicy.
Like many, I fell in love with home cooked chili con carne in my university days. It was a typical dinner in our busy house full of students. The chili contests were simplified. Whoever could make the hottest, and still preserve a decent taste, reigned supreme. No surprise that my darling husband had a similar legacy with chili. Including the contests.
Over the years our tastes and talents evolved. Our refinement mainly focused on establishing a dish with greater 'authenticity' as we learned more about the dish's origins.
The discovery of Chilly Chiles right here in our own hometown was like striking gold. We had at our finger tips every possible pepper and spice to make the perfect (most authentic) chili. It was a dream come true for anyone loving all things hot.
In the spring of 2002, we were extended an invitation to compete in the 8th Annual Chili Contest held in a private home south of Ottawa. What a gathering. Not everyone brings an entry. Some are just there for the tastings. The darling husband laboured over the technique and ingredients, feeling a burden of responsibility to make a respectable submission. No one was more surprised than he when he won. Products from Chilly Chiles played a key role in that first competitive creation.
We have attended this contest almost every year since and now have 4 wins to the family name. (I too won the first year I entered a submission.) The champion is taken out of play the year following the win and given the prestigious role as one of the 3 esteemed judges involved in the blind tasting. That job ended up being easier than I thought. You just 'know' when you have tasted a winning chili. Condiments such as cheese, sour cream, diced avocados are forbidden but we show great flexibility when it comes to incorporating beans. For this, some would hang their head in shame. Flavour trumps all.
Chilly Chilies returned to Navan in 2006. The travel distance of 38 kms was no deterrent to stocking up on the best that heat has to offer. We made the drive and continued to use them as our ingredient source for preparing our, hopefully, winning chili. Although, their mail order business may have been more practical.
Here is today's indulgence to add to our pantry stockpile. We showed great restraint.
The 18th Annual Chili Contest is Saturday evening. A few of the purchases will hit the pot tomorrow as this year's winning chili will get underway. I like the brew to settle for a day, allowing the flavours to find their balance.
Each year the recipe is different. My first (and winning chili) was recently published in the cookbook, PocoPazzo and Friends. (As an FYI, this cookbook has raised over $30,000 in support of the QuickStart Program here in Ottawa for children with autism.)
Our Chilly Chiles stash on hand will keep us for a bit. And although I have a sense of sadness that Rob and Alison's store is closing, I am quite delighted at their plans to retire, build a new home in the area, and rest up a bit.
April 15th will come quickly. Consider making visit to pick up a few special items for your pantry and to share your best wishes.
1220 Colonial Road
Mon - Tues: Closed
Wed - Thurs: 10 am to 6 pm
Fri: 10 am to 8 pm
Sat: 9 am to 6 pm
Sun: 11 am to 5 pm