We've made two batches of Cincinnati Chili over the past two weeks, the first for us, and the second for the chili cook-off at Sally's office. For the uninitiated, Cincinnati Chili is a unique dish featuring ground beef, onion, tomato sauce, and spices served over thin spaghetti noodles and topped with some combination of cheese, kidney beans, and chopped onions (recipe available upon request).
We came across a wonderful method for preparing this tasty food experience watching America's Test Kitchens/Cook's Country on PBS. Having grown up with a Steak and Shake version of this chili, I was immediately interested. We tried it and loved it. Then came our mistake....
We told Sally's nephew, who grew up just north of Cincinnati, that we had made Cincinnati Chili. The next 10 minutes featured an uncomfortable interrogation about our methodology punctuated by a variety of dismissive gestures. The meaning was clear: How could we even think we had prepared Cincinnati Chili when we aren't from Cincinnati? How dare we!
I know that we aren't the only ones subject to such derision, and that it isn't only people from north of Cincinnati that are neurotic about food. For example, we recently did an on-line search for recipes for Bubble and Squeak. What we found was an incredible variety of ingredients and methods, each put forth as the only true, authentic version of Bubble and Squeak. I was reminded of Garrison Keillor's references to the Chatterbox Cafe, where the food tastes like homemade, provided that was how you were brought up.
I am also reminded of the old story of the man who loved oatmeal, but complained to his bride that hers didn't taste like that which his mom used to make. The dutiful young woman tried everything she could think of, but her oatmeal never made the grade. One morning, she burned the oatmeal rather badly. Feeling somewhat
scorched herself by her husband's criticism, she served him the oatmeal anyway.
"That's it!" he exclaimed. "This tastes just like Mom's!"