Chili Legends

Today, Yesterday and Tomorrow

Leg-end/la; a story coming down from the past; esp: one popularly regarded as historical although not verifiable. b; a body of such stories "a place in the legend of the frontier." c; a popular myth of recent origin. d; a person or thing that inspires legends...

Carroll Shelby
The above words were taken out of my dictionary to help me understand what a "legend" really is. Of course, another way to explain it is to talk about Carroll Shelby. He's been a legend in the racing fraternity long before we all got into chili...and now he's a legend in the world of chili; historically and verifiable.

C.V. Wood, JR.
Another example is C.V. Wood, Jr. He was a legend in the construction/development of theme parks (he built Disneyland) and probably a legend in several other areas of the business world that I don't even know about. As our very first "undenia-BULL, undeFEETed" world's champion chili cook in 1969, he became another legend in our chili world. Historically, verifiable, and certifiable.

These two wonderful guys serverd to inspire more "legends" to develop over the years, like...

W.D. "Bill" Ray
Again, Bill is most likely a legend in areas that I have no knowledge of... that's the kind of guy he is; and he doesn't talk about himself, which makes it doubly difficult to find out personal things. He's another one, like Sheland Woody, who certainly "earned his peppers" back in those early years.

As a matter of fact, in 1974 Father Duffy had lunch with Jon Clark and Jim West of Balboa Bay Club. Father suggested that the club hold a California State Championship Chili Cookoff... since we didn't have one at that time. W.D. "Bill" Ray, owner of the Balboa Bay Club, approved and scheduled the first California State Championship for Thursday, May 23, 1974.

There were several other "firsts" associated with this cookoff. Not only was it the first cookoff at night, it was also the first one on a Thursday (so it wouldn't disturb the weekend club members) as well as being the First Annual California State Championship Chili Cookoff. As far as we know, even into today, it's the only chili cookoff held on Thursday.

Speaking of governors, in 1978 Bill was voted one of the Governors of the ICS and was instrumental in the organization of the by-laws and the Society.

The California State Championship has grown to be the most talked about cookoff...other than the World's Championship at Tropico. It's been referred to as a "happening", "festival", "carnival", and sometimes all three rolled into one!

The success of this event has been an inspirational influence on over 100 sanctioned cookoffs in California as well as numerous other chili cookoffs throughout chilidom. And it's made Bill Ray a true chili legend whether he admits it or not. Now I'll try to pick up some of the "legends" who've left us over the years. Like...

Woodruff "Wino Woody" De Silva
Wino Woody used to do a lot of cooking. It was his hobby. He used a lot of various wines in his cooking as well as pouring some into himself while creating his culinary masterpieces. Hence his nickname.

Woody was portuguese and proud of it, as he should be. A true gourmet was he and built like one. He took great pride in being able to hold his own in any drink fest. I can still see him walking across the tarmac; looking like the Tower of Pisa carrying his drink, just a little tilted but never going down.

Since H. Allen fell off the wagon in 1968, Woody was elected to represent California. He appointed me as his "gofer". Woody proudly touted Cucamonga champagne as his secret "ingrediment", as he used to say, with a twinkle in his eye.

He did his chili cooking in a wok. I believe he was the first one to do this. The only other one I know who used a wok to cook chili was, many years later, Mickey Sartori, bless her soul. I remember Woody was cooking close to the floor of that porch on the Chisos Oasis Saloon and somebody lost their balance, stepping right on the chili while it was brewing. That didn't phase Woody. We just took another swig of champagne and toasted this new secret "ingrediment", a Texas bootprint.

Woody really did have a true secret ingredient. A spice called "woodruff." As far as we could find, it's the only spice mentioned in the Bible. Since it was Woody's first name, he always used it in his chili. I guess you could say it was his signature. (A little subliminal humor there.) If you should decide to look for it, check with your local winery. They use woodruff in making wine. Fascinating, wot?

There's maybe a whole book on Wino Woody so I'll have to chop it off right here in order to say a few words about...

Dr. Roy Nakayama
Roy was loved by everyone who met him. He was the famed agronomist from New Mexico State University who developed most of the modern chile strains. He grew, developed and studied all types of chile peppers. He was our official source for anything to do with peppers. Some of us were lucky enough to get ristras each year. I hung mine on the back porch for good luck. It worked! Some racoons (their whole family, I think) came up one night to sneak a snack from my ristra. They never returned.

Roy's lovely wife, Rose, always came along with him. My attachment and I picked them up at the airport a couple of times and got them out to the cookoff site. We had some good conversations and got to know each other a little better than most of our guests. I asked Rose to reminisce a little for this legendary article. Despite her aversion to writing, she did me the following favor.

"Going to the World's Chili Cookoff was always the highlight of a successful chile year for Roy. It was a fitting finale. Aside from the comraderie, when it comes to chili, too much is not enough. He felt any chili cookoff was good for the industry and deeply believed they helped generate the interest and, as a result, huge strides were made in the Mexican food trade."

"We often chuckled over the chile pepper-eating contests which were eventually cancelled due to the exorbitant increase in insurance fees when one of the contestants passed out... due more to the to the beer comsumed than the chile peppers."

As one of the reporters stated, "The Fun of chili cookoffery is in its absolute inconsequentiality."

"But what a way to let loose and meet such a nice bunch of people."

I really appreciated that lovely commentary which I'm sure mirrors the thoughts of both of them. Thank you, Rose, for making the effort. Rose said to say "Hi" to all her friends because she won't be with us at Tropico this year.

There are more legends to cover but I'm running out of time and space, so some yet to come will show up in our regular publication Chili, our newspaper. Like George Haddaway, Madeleine Sophie Gary, Burck Smith, Roy Palmer, Al "Red Dawg" Weber and more in the making who are still with us, as well as other who aren't, H. Allen Smith, Wick Fowler, Hondo Crouch, Frank X. Tolbert, Chill Wills, Larry Laurie, and whomever.

If you're a member of the ICS you get our Chili news where you can find out all kinds of exciting things happening in the Chili World.

That's an 88 from Warmly, Ormly!

© International Chili Society, all rights reserved. | Privacy Policy