For a university that -- ostensibly, at least -- doesn't encourage drinking, Baylor turned out a hell of a One Pot Showdown team at yesterday's 5th annual competition held at the Saint Arnold brewery. The Bears Gone Drinking team, made up of Baylor alumni in a green-and-gold tent, won the competition easily with its clever shepherd's pie recipe featuring two Saint Arnold brews.
As is mandatory in the yearly cooking competition, the team had cooked everything for its entry in one pot -- including potatoes cooked down with Elissa IPA and then put through a ricer to achieve maximum fluffiness. Beef cooked in Winter Stout brought another element to the recipe and ultimately won Bears Gone Drinking the grand prize: $500 and bragging rights for at least the next year.
This was my fourth year to judge the One Pot Showdown, which featured 47 entrants -- an increase from the 30 contestants that competed when the Showdown was still held at Saint Arnold's old brewery. And it also marked the finest year of competition yet: I was impressed with nearly every bite that I tasted along with fellow judges Ronnie Crocker (Houston Chronicle), Ben Fullelove (Petrol Station), Caroline Gallay (CultureMap), Rebecca Masson (Fluff Bake Bar) and Courtney Zavala (KPRC).
When nearly every team ups their game, however, it can mean that some former favorites get left in the dust: Neither The Carnies -- who have always placed in the top three each year -- nor last year's winners, The Eatsie Boys, made it to the final round of competition.
Second place went to a brilliant Texan-Indian blend: crawfish-curry bisque with spinach made with Amber Ale. And third place -- by a narrow margin -- went to a chili that featured venison, beef, pork, bacon and the rich, caramel notes of a few cooked-down pitchers of Santo. That use of Santo nicely complemented the pasilla-and-ancho-based mole in the chili, something which instantly set the chili apart.
Santo was the most popular beer to cook with this year, by far, something that brewery owner Brock Wagner attributed to its newness: It's the latest release by the brewery, and something different for the teams to experiment with. This intense focus on Santo, however, led many of the judges to experience a bit of palate fatigue.
Instead, it was the recipes made with more "standard" beers -- like two separate tom kha gai soups made with Brown Ale and Amber Ale, respectively, and a bright salsa made with Christmas Ale -- that stood out.
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For sheer creativity, however, the judges were wowed by Santo deviled eggs that featured a crunchy topping of finely chopped bacon -- all of it, of course, made in one pot. That's no easy task. Yet the overpowering flavor of the bacon relegated it to a close fourth place, with the chili and crawfish-curry bisque squeaking by.
At the end of the afternoon, however, One Pot Showdown isn't necessarily about who won or lost: It's about the money that the Saint Arnold brewery raises for charity with the yearly event. Noah's Kitchen, a local non-profit dedicated to providing healthy meals for Houston's homeless, took home the biggest prize of all: $5,000 raised by Saint Arnold's loyal army.