It’s chili-eating season, so the big-league chili chefs are preparing for judgment day. Just one spoonful of chili will judge the depths of flavor, aroma, consistency, thickness, presentation and most importantly — the taste.

The Big Bear Chili Cook-Off Saturday, July 13, attracts more than 40 chili cooks competing for $3,500 in prize money, the People Choice Competitions and more.

Huntington Beach stirs up chili champs. Chuck Norton, Huntington Beach native and Big Bear resident, returns with The Broadway Cafe team in hopes of holding the Big Bear People’s Choice award for another year. Cory Catalano, Huntington Beach resident, returns ambitious as ever with the BellaQue BBQ team. Catalano aims to move on to compete in the 2019 International Chili Society World Championship Chili Cook-Off in September, as well as score another People’s Choice award.

Team Broadway Cafe

Norton, co-owner of The Broadway Cafe, has been competing in the chili cook-off since 2004. A passion for chili has gained The Broadway Cafe team multiple trophies. Norton moved to Big Bear in 2011. By 2013 he joined The Broadway Cafe team. Norton’s wife, Brenda, suggested he and his roommate at the time, Dave Jordan, should enter the chili cook-off.

“Dave is a big cooker,” Chuck says. “He’s the one who actually has the recipe for the chili (the red chili category). I’m the one that does all the cutting, prep work and stirs the pot once the spices are in. His wife, Pat, does the chili verde. She won second place in 2007, the second year she entered.”

Other Broadway team members include Brad and Carlin Harris. The People’s Choice chili is Broadway Cafe’s red chili recipe.

“Before we were making our People’s Choice chili almost exactly like our basic red,” Chuck says. “The competition red chili was a little too hot for people. It’s our everyday recipe from the restaurant — Brad and Carlin’s recipe. Now, our People’s Choice chili is made mild enough that kids can try.”

So what’s in the award-winning chili? “Nothing peculiar,” Chuck says. “Basic chili powder, a little bit of garlic powder, two different styles of tomatoes, two types of beans, red and pinto, and burger meat. Carlin and Brad perfected a chili recipe to have for the restaurant, and it’s good enough for the chili cook-off. As for Dave’s recipe, we’ve been adjusting it for years. Dave tweaks the recipe regularly.”

There’s a lot of work that goes into making the chili cook-off happen.“Last year we brought 18 gallons with 3 gallons left at 3 p.m.,” Norton says. “We kept serving chili 10 minutes to 4 p.m., even though the People’s Choice judging was over.”

Be there before the chili is gone and find out if The Broadway Cafe chili will continue to hold the Big Bear People’s Choice title.

Team BellaQue BBQ

“I’ve only been competing in the ICS cook-offs since 2016, so I’m still considered a youngster in the chili cook-off world,” Cory Catalano says.

Last year, Catalano won first place in the People’s Choice award and third place in the salsa contest. Catalano began cooking chili at UCLA tailgates.

“We used to cook as a competition between our friends to outdo each other,” Catalano says. This grew into competing in multiple ICS cook-offs a year.

What categories will Catalano enter this year? “We are entering all of them,” Catalano says. “We’ve yet to qualify for the ICS World Championship. If we don’t get any first place awards in Big Bear, we wont get to go on. It makes for a very busy day — I’m constantly chopping, sautéing, checking temperatures and liquid levels. By 3 o’clock, at the last turn in time, I’ll allow myself to stop cooking and have a beer.”

Catalano began working on his smoked-brisket chili recipe in 2013 and it has only gotten better over time. “We are one of the only teams that I know of that uses smoked meats in the People’s Choice chili,” Catalano says. “I’m still debating what I’m going to bring this year. We will definitely bring the smoked-brisket chili (last years People’s Choice winner). I’m debating a second chili of tri-tip and pulled pork that I’ve been playing around with.”

If you don’t count the spices, Catalano’s recipe is pretty simple. “It’s four ingredients — brisket, jalapeño, red bell pepper and onion,” he says. “My rub that goes on the brisket has about 10 spices. The spices we add to the sauce is another 10 to 12 spices. Our spice profile is pretty unique. I put a lot of time into it. We don’t use off the shelf spices, we buy them from a couple of different boutique shops.”

Don’t miss Catalano’s smoked-brisket chili. Will the BellaQue BBQ chili qualify for the ICS World Championships? Find out July 13.

The Event

Tradition draws crowds of chili lovers and returning chili champions to the annual Big Bear Lake Chili Cook-Off on Saturday, July 13, at the Bartlett Event Area. Steaming bowls of spicy chili will be served beginning at 11 a.m. Judging ends at 3 p.m. Award winners will be announced at 5 p.m.

Spectators can enjoy the aromas and tastings of chili, stop by the craft beer, wine and cocktail garden, listen to live music and shop in the food vendor and artisan marketplace. There is also a kids zone with plenty of games and activities to keep the young ones busy.

Admission is free. The Bartlett Event area is in The Village of Big Bear Lake at 630 Bartlett Road, Big Bear Lake. For more information, visit www.bigbear.com.

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