My Edmonds Restaurant News: It’s a chili cook-off showdown for Edmonds couple

Anthony and Christene James
Anthony and Christene James with their many food awards

Christene and Anthony James are on fire. I’ll spell it fyre as in Raven’s Fyre BBQ. Their passion for foods — barbecued and grilled — was evidenced as I pulled up to their home in Edmonds. Not one, not two, but three black shiny smokers in their front yard.

The couple is headed to the World Food Championships in Orange Beach, Alabama on Nov. 9. Each of them has plenty of wins under their belts and a slew of trophies and ribbons grace their mantle.

Christene, head cook of Deena’s Cantina Chili, is excited to make her fourth appearance at the World Food Championships — the first time cooking with her husband in the Hamburger category — and now competing for the third time in the Chili category. She qualified this year at the Tolbert Washington State Chili Cook-off. Christene, who is the current Great Pepper for Washington State’s Puget Pod CASI (Chili Appreciation Society International) organization, has been cooking on the competition chili circuit for more than 10 years.

When not actually competing, Christene stays involved in other aspects of cooking competition as a certified judge for several organizations, as well as the Puget Pod’s Great Pepper (the pod’s leader) and a former president of the Pacific Northwest BBQ Association.

Anthony, the head cook of Raven’s Fyre BBQ, has been in barbecue competitions for over 13 years, as well as Dutch oven and chili events. His interest in barbecue began after he read an article in a men’s magazine, where the reporter was embedded in a barbecue team that competed at a Jack Daniels event. Intrigued, Anthony signed up for barbecue classes, started competing and won a spot in a Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational. Just winning the state event isn’t enough. After the local win, the team is entered into a lottery for the final event. Lucky contestants are drawn and invited to compete.

Anthony just won 1st Place Home-style at the Al Ruskin Memorial Chili Cook-Off, 1st Place CASI at the Puget Pod Chili Cook-Off, and Runner-Up for Judge’s Choice at the Tolbert Washington State Chili Cook-Off. After three previous visits to the World Food Championships – Burger in 2012, and Sandwich in 2013 and 2014, with 9th and 3rd Place finishes respectively – he’s excited to be cooking in the Chili category, where he will be going head-to-head with his wife Christene of Deena’s Cantina.

It’s gonna be a showdown!

KP: “Tell me the story-how did the two of you get into barbecue and chili competitions?”

CJ: “We met at the University of Washington over 30 years ago. Our peer group is comprised of nerds, who obsess on their hobbies, ours happens to be grilling.”

KP: “So you both still have day jobs?”

AJ: “Yes, it’s an expensive hobby.”

CJ: “I work the University of Washington; I am the Assistant Dean for Finance and Administration at the UW School of Pharmacy.”

AJ: “I work in my family’s business: Global Calibration Services.” He can get time off to attend competitions and another benefit is a whole office full of recipe testers.

KP: “Family into BBQ too?”

AJ: “No. Christene’s mom helps with WFC in the Chili competitions, and her dad helped on my sandwich team when we won. But our BBQ parents are former Edmonds residents, Sharon and Mac Yarborough, now in Texas, who cooked in the local Chili Association which begat the Pacific NW BBQ Association. It’s the second oldest BBQ-sanctioning association in the U.S.”

KP: “Readers will salivate when they look at these pictures. It’s a long way to Alabama. Where can they taste some of your food closer to home?”

CJ: Raven’s Fyre BBQ caters special events, and teaches classes on chili and barbecue, in addition to competitions. Here is the link: We cook anything.

Here are some examples of the Ravens Fyre fare:

Bahn Mi sliders
Bahn Mi sliders

Banh Mi-Inspired Sliders – a practice recipe for a burger competition. The hamburger (from their favorite butcher Double DD Meats) basted in a mirin-honey-soy glaze as it cooked over charcoal. The toasted potato slider roll from Macrina Bakery was topped with a mayonnaise-honey-sriracha spread, cilantro, and cucumber, and the burger was finished with the classic pickled daikon and carrot.

Traditional Oktoberfest Dinner-For the sides, they went with two German classics: Blaukraut (red cabbage brined in red wine) and warm German potato salad. Of course, it wouldn’t be Oktoberfest without sausage! As a twist on a classic, they braised smoked German sausages in Pyramid Oktoberfest Autumn Lager with onions and apples. To round out the meal they choose sauerbraten. For those not in the know, sauerbraten is beef (or pork or other meats) marinated in a vinegar mixture for several days, and then braised. Normally a cut of beef such as bottom round is used, but staying true to their barbecue roots, they used briskets.

Orange bourbon pecan pies.
Orange bourbon pecan pies.

Dutch Oven Orange and Bourbon Pecan “Pies”- Not really pies in the classic sense. Using this recipe as a start, oranges were cut in half and the orange flesh removed, leaving a peel cup. A 14-inch Dutch oven was heated up to 350°F, and lined with foil to catch drippings. The filled cups were placed in the oven and cooked for about 20 minutes, until the filling set. Served on the Dutch oven lid, surrounded by edible flowers, this dessert took second place at the competition.

They work together in catering events and in past competitions as team Ravens Fyre. This year is different; at World Championships they are head-to-head in the Chili category. “There is no we in chili, only I,” Christene says.

KP: “How does this work? The two of you cook together, but can compete without animosity?”

CJ: “I will be cooking chili at the WFC under my chili name Deena’s Cantina Chili. Anthony will represent Raven’s Fyre BBQ. We’ll go head-to-head for each turn in.”

KP: “Where did the name Deena’s Cantina Chili originate?”

CJ: “Deena is a nickname I’ve had since collage … and when I started competing regularly in chili I needed a name and we wanted something interesting. Anthony actually came up with the name and it stuck.”

For my visit, Christene and Anthony have prepared two versions of chili recipes. Christene likes milder recipes, a nod to her Norwegian and German heritage. Anthony likes it hot and is more creative with ingredients.

CJ: “My white chili has white beans, chicken, jalapeno peppers.”

Deena's chili
Deena’s chili

I watched Christene stir dairy products into her recipe. She garnished the creamy concoction in my bowl with bacon bits and jack cheese before she offered it to me. Oh wow, I had to restrain myself and take a picture while it still looked pretty.

AJ: “This recipe includes the Goya product Salsa Verde. At Top Ten competitions one has to use key ingredients provided by sponsors.”

A timer goes off.

AJ:“I made it with time to spare.”

Anthony's chili
Anthony’s chili

My second bowl was full of pork, tomatillos and a garnish of green parsley, which kicked up the color even more. Readers, I apologize, the photo doesn’t do justice to the dish. I’d gobbled half the bowl before I took the shot.

Both versions of the chili were delicious. Sure glad I didn’t have to decide between the two recipes.

Christene pulled out a binder with many pages. She added notes on the recipe batches they’d tested. They want to get it just right. And they want to win.

I wish the best of luck to both of them.

Local happenings:

Game night and pet adoption events at Gallagher’s

Costume party and game night happens at Gallaghers’ Where U Brew on Oct. 21, from 6-10 p.m.. Giant Jenga, Wii bowling tournament, Glow in the Dark corn hole, and board games! Prizes for best costume and winners of the games will be awarded. Potluck style, so bring a dish or munchies to share.

Nov. 5, from 2-5 p.m., is the Humane Society adoption event and Gallagher’s will host the Max Mobile, with cats and dogs to adopt. Raffles and gifts for those who adopt a pet will be supplied by Gallagher’s, American Brewing Company and Blue Collar Dog House. Find your new family member at this on-the-spot adoption event.

Uber delivers!
Restaurant News is excited to announce that Spud Fish and Chips can now be delivered to the Edmonds community through UberEats. Customers can simply download the UberEats app, order and their Spud meal is delivered within 15 minutes.

Prefer to dine inside at Spud Fish and Chips? Customers may order online, set the pick-up time and pay in advance. Just log on to website and click on the menu.

New product from Scratch Distillery

Aaron Martzke creating tea-infused vodka for Scratch.
Aaron Martzke creating tea-infused vodka for Scratch.

Scratch Distillery operations in Edmonds introduces a new product called 3 Tea Infused Vodka. Aaron Martzke, an intricate part of the team at Scratch Distillery operations, has created spectacular vodka infused with a blend of pomegranate, hibiscus and earl grey teas. Delicious floral and sweet notes balance against a mild tannic mouth feel. This will be a favorite for complex cocktails. Goes into bottle this week and should be in Scratch tasting room cocktails by the weekend.

Travel tales
Where do restaurant news writers go on vacation? Last weekend I headed to the Okanagan in BC. The desert like climate and sunshine were a nice change from the fall rain and clouds. The area is called the fruit basket of Canada and noted as a great wine appellation. We came home with fruit, honey and some outstanding bottles of wine.

Here’s a little report on my favorite meal, in case you happen to head up that way.

Our meal at the Little Straw Bistro.
Our meal at the Barrel Top Grille.

We had lunch at the Barrel Top Grille located at Little Straw Vineyards. Chef Trevor offered a lovely fall soup, paired with a grilled maple cheddar sandwich. The broth spiced with curry and smoky paprika tasted like autumn. Carrots, beets, onions, celery and end of summer tomatoes were oven roasted, put through the food processor and added to veggie stock. The combination created a bowl of garnet-colored liquid.

Canadian maple cheese
Canadian maple cheese

Ahem- Resident Cheese Monger? If you are reading this, I’d love to purchase some of that maple cheddar cheese from your case soon…

My hubby ordered a hummus plate comprised of lemon balm hummus, roasted red pepper and sundried tomato, and olive & artichoke tapenades, all served with fresh warm triangles of pita.

A great starter: 2015 Viognier Auxerrois, a delicious wine to sip on its own, went well with the dishes with lemon, such as Greek-inspired dips. A glass of 2013 Maréchal Foch with its zesty acidity paired well with the hearty spiced soup and grilled cheddar sandwich.

The 4th Edmonds Scarecrow Festival happens now

Voting is Oct. 23, starting at 6 a.m., to Nov. 4 at 6 p.m. You may vote for one entry in each of the six categories- here’s the link.

Wishing you all a Happy Fall, a Happy Halloween and many Happy Hours, in our fine Edmonds-area establishments.

Kathy Passage Hi Res— Kathy Passage

A specialty gourmet food broker for over 30 years, Kathy Passage has in-depth knowledge on food and the special qualities of ingredients used in the exquisite products she helped bring to market. Kathy brings this unique perspective from the “other side of the plate” to writing about the food and restaurant scene in Edmonds.

  1. Kathy,

    I love your column. It’s good enough to eat! And I love the fact that you had a hard time restraining yourself long enough to take photos! Is there a link to recipes for any of these, or are they guarded secrets?

    1. Cliff,
      Thanks for the positive feedback on my column. I do enjoy my writing assignments and all the perks of the research are that I discover great food and awesome people.
      Recipes- I will ask Anthony and Christene if they’ll share recipes- maybe after the competition in November. While they were not hiding what was going into those enamel cook pots, they didn’t exactly call out the specifics either. Anthony has a blog- here is a link to his page,

      1. Thank you, Kathy! Will check Anthony’s link. If they won’t share their recipes, I’ll understand. While serving in Brazil in the Peace Corps several decades back I became a fan of beans, especially black beans, but I also love white beans. — Cliff

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