Michigan, or at least Sault Ste. Marie has regulations that state the chili must be cooked in a "Health Department Certified Kitchen" with three sinks for sanitizing and everything. Can't use anything made at home or out of my personal garden. Fortunately, I'm friends and a patron of many vendors from out local farmer's market. And I can use fresh ingredients from there. I expect that they'll sponsor me again this year (I still have to purchase most of the ingredients myself though). This gives me a bit of an edge. And the meat processor who will be supplying my beef told me to give her 9 days notice and she'll smoke some beef for me to use in my Texas Red, so long as I save her a bowl or two.
Two years back, one of the vendors, who had more tomatoes at season's end than they could sell, or knew what to do with asked me to create a cream of tomato soup recipe for her. She gave me a sack of ripe tomatoes to work with. I said OK. I made my first ever batch of - from scratch - cream of tomato soup, with fresh herbs, real cream, and fresh-picked ripe tomatoes. It came out pretty good. I made sure to document the recipe as I made the soup. I took a hardcopy of it to the vendor along with a thermos full of hot soup. She tried it, loved it, and insisted on giving me a bushel basket full of ripe tomatoes.
Sometimes it just pays to know how to cook. Two of the restaurants in the area have given me free food at different times. They wanted me to test new recipes that they were making. I was happy to oblige. All in all, knowing how to make good food has served me very well. The only issue I have with the skill is that some of my friends refuse to make some of the things I'm known for at out church pot lucks. They said they won't compete with me. But I'm not competing. I love trying other people's versions of dishes that I make. I always learn knew things from it. And really, no kidding aside, I'm really a pretty humble guy. I don't want to intimidate anyone. I like to work with people, not for them or compete with them. Well, I like to compete where competition is the name of the game, like in the chili cook-off, and in a few bread cook offs-that I've been in (local Church competitions and such).
Cooking should be something shared and enjoyed by friends and family. That's the way I look at it anyways.
Thanks everyone for the well wishes and support.
Seeeeeya; Goodweed of the North