Since Kathleen and I were the judges, this couldn’t have been some sort of miscarriage of justice, right? No, let’s just say that this outcome indicates that Clayton is no run-of-the-mill town. Second place, by the way, was a “white chili” made with chicken and white beans. We may not get invited back for a second year of judging.
Clayton is quite literally a wide spot on the road about 25 miles up the Salmon River from Challis in central Idaho. Once a mining community, Clayton is home nowadays to about two dozen people in a county with 4,000 total residents.
The occasion was the 2011 Clayton Heritage Days. We started tasting the seven entries of the chili cook-off around 10:30 a.m. and handed out the cash awards (50 bucks for first place, 30 for second, 20 for third) at 11:15 and by noon or so it all had been consumed by attendees.
There was a log-sawing contest (won by two out-of-state guys who were spending the summer working at a local guest ranch). We had to head home before the old-time fiddlers fired up around 2.
Unlike a lot of tiny towns, the people of Clayton have kept the village alive through a historical society that maintains a gorgeous museum and sponsors a number of events, including the Heritage Days. The driving force behind all of this is a skinny cowboy named Mike Kalenik, who makes bowls of exotic woods when he’s not preserving local history.
OK, Mike’s not a cowboy. He’s a transplanted Californian who settled in Clayton He writes on the town’s web site: “What impressed me the most is the ability to sit down with someone, usually over a cup of coffee, and you might bullshit for 45 minutes and never learn their name.”
Here’s another thing -- while Clayton got its start with silver mining, it’s now the world’s most significant source of something called “lube-grade molybdenum,” which is used to harden steel.
Anyway, the lady who made the winning chili wasn’t even in the judging barn when we announced our decision, so sure was she that she wouldn’t win. She’d just thrown it together the night before, it seems. Here’s the secret -- in addition to hot dogs, she threw in big bunch of bacon. Just goes to show -- bacon makes everything better.