Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Lessons from hosting a church chili-cookoff

I was on the planning committee for my church's annual chili-cookoff. The weather has been crazy, so the participation was 10 entries compared to 25 last year. The congregation is fairly stuffy and pedestrian. It's a Northshore Chicago suburb. 'nuff said.

Being from Texas and holding a fairly sophisticated experience of tasting chili, my opinion seems to hold little sway in this context, but I learned some very powerful insights in the popular public's sense of "favorite." As I look around, I see evidence of my new found insight everywhere. So a little more back story before I give away my discovery.

Before the tasting festivities (I skipped the church service) I was hanging out with one of the entrants and his five year old daughter. Around kids I like to do magic tricks and then teach them to them. It's fun to see them wonder and learn and then watch them try to do the tricks... obviously, I'm not a real magician. The tricks that I like to do are spontaneous, slight of hand manipulations, like coin tricks, making cards disappear and reappear, ripping up napkins and putting them back together. I do enjoy gimmicked tricks, but they are less convenient because they require the set-up and etc... and now for the insight. People (as in the masses) like gimmicks over the authentic ability. How did the chili-cookoff serve as the medium for this insight you may ask? The winner, wasn't even chili. It was a mole'. I didn't taste it, but it might not have even been a mole'... but that's what they called it and they served it with rice and tortilla... it's a freakin' mini-enchilada that won the chili-cookoff!!! As a purest in most things, inside I was in complete disbelief. And the winner of the cornbread, it tasted like wet grits and milk... but it was green, so somehow that made it taste better. In my mind it was a complete outrage and disaster.

People like the gimmicks.

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