I love chili.
I love eating chili. I love smelling chili. I love cooking chili. I know a thing or two about chili, I like to think. In fact, I know enough about chili to know better than to call myself an expert, because there's always going to be somebody else who is a bigger expert, even if only in his or her own mind. That's because we chili-heads are passionate about our chili and can argue for hours about which of the many styles of chili is the only kind of chili that counts. It's kind of like pizza or barbecue that way.
Or like writing. A lot like writing, actually.
When I make chili, it's a long-term, complicate procedure. Why? Because I throw in a ton of ingredients to try to achieve a complex, interesting flavor. Chili doesn't have to be complicated. There are very easy recipes that satisfy a chili craving just fine.
But when I cook it, it's an event. If not for the consumers, then for the chef. Because I never make it the same way twice. People have asked me for my recipe, but I don't have one. I just do stuff.
I've been known to combine as many as 12 different kinds of chile, as well as other spices and ingredients, in a single pot of chili, because each ingredient adds a unique element to the complex formula.
One of the most important elements for a good pot of chili, I believe, is time. When I want to go all-out on a pot of chili, I think about it for a while. I let it cook in my mind for a while while I figure out what this particular batch is going to be made of.
There's a lot to consider. I consider the chili I want to make, first of all, the experience I want to create for my own benefit as a chili artist. I'd love to cook exactly the chili I imagine. See, I like my chili hot. Hot is not the right word. Scorching. Explosive. Intense. Even violent. I want the chili to be an experience as much as a meal. But searing heat alone is boring. It is only effective when combined with those complex flavors I mentioned. Problem is, if I make it exactly like I would for myself, I'll be the only one who eats it and I'll be stuck with a big pot of chili, because a small one is not possible. I have to think about my audience. I have to tone down the heat and be somewhat moderate in any experimentation because, ultimately, I want to see my audience enjoy and appreciate the end result of all the work I put into it.
So, once I figure out what I'm going to put in my chili, I start making it. Making a good pot of chili is an exercise in constant tweaking. I want to get the flavors just right, which means constant tasting and adjusting, realizing that with every adjustment, the end result will be different than it seems the moment I make the change, because the flavors change and deepen during cooking.
Which brings me back to time. To meld all those flavors requires time. I believe in cooking my best chili all day. Again, there are plenty of recipes that can be prepared quickly and many of those are tasty. But if I cook mine quickly, all those spices will still be separate because they need time to come together for the rich, deep, flavor I crave. It's as much about patience as it is about the right mix of ingredients.
Of course, not every chili is as successful as every other. That's the risk of making it differently every time as I try to learn to be a better chili cook. I can accept that. I don't think I've ever made a bad chili, and my audience has always seemed appreciative, but as the person who made it, I can be tough on myself, dissatisfied by the smallest things.
Finally, I want my chili to stay with my audience after they've eaten it. Sometimes, people remember it as something that, if not life-changing, at least improved their lives for a little while. Other times, the chili stays with them in other ways, which probably don't need to be discussed here. My chili has sometimes kept me awake all night, contemplating each and every ingredient. If you know what I mean.
And that, you see, is how writing and chili are very much the same.