Chile verde is a dish that's often used to judge the worthiness of a Mexican restaurant.
If it's good, it's likely the kitchen has a handle on the other recipes. But no matter how tasty, most people will still tell you their mother's version is best.
No one dares say mom's isn't best.
Chile verde is almost endlessly adjustable in terms of spice and ingredients. Some like a mild tang, while others prefer a nuclear-level burn. Some keep it simple with chunks of pork shoulder, jalapeno peppers, garlic and tomatillos. Others add cumin, cilantro and onions to the mix.
In short, with all the minute adjustments possible, it's a great dish for a cookoff, which is what Amestoy's Bar did Sunday for the fourth year in a row. A record 21 teams participated, including mainstays B Ryder's Sports Bar & Grill and Valentin Torres, and newcomer The Petroleum Club.
Soon after the event began, people were buzzing both about Torres, 2013's winner, and B Ryder's, which placed in the top three each of the last three years. A few chose as clear favorite The Petroleum Club, which served -- by far -- the biggest portion of any contestant in a bowl nearly overflowing with huge chunks of pork.
While the ingredients in chile verde are important, it's the love and care put into the dish that make it memorable, said contestant Michael Madrigal of Big Sizzle's Catering.
"I like mine mild, but I made it with a bit of a kick to it (today)," he said. "The spice hits in the back of the throat."
Madrigal and the other contestants had booths set up along the outside of Amestoy's parking lot, with space between the bar and the booths for patrons to walk through and grab as many samples as their stomachs could handle.
Torres has been cooking in a trailer outside Home Depot on Rosedale Highway for the past 12 years. He's got his recipe down pat and calmly scooped out generous portions to people attracted by the plaques he's won at different cooking competitions.
Cindy Parra assisted her friend Julie Calvin, who entered for the third year. Parra said only fresh ingredients were used, including the pig, which was slaughtered by Calvin's brother-in-law in Oregon for her use in the competition.
Calvin's chile verde was darker than most, the result, Parra said, of roasting the peppers longer. She said the recipe is simply tomatillos, peppers and meat cooked together, with no superfluous ingredients thrown in.
"Let the meat speak for itself," Parra said.
Petroleum Club chef Sebastien Perez said his recipe is a classic created by his mother when she worked at a restaurant in Mexico City. He hasn't changed a thing since she passed it on to him.
But mom's recipe wasn't enough to win the contest. That honor went to The Black Hole, a group of local Raiders fans who have participated each year.
The group's cook, Theresa Ocampo, said she added just a little more spice this year. She said they'll be back next year to defend their title.
Ocampo may have to further fine tune her recipe if she wants to repeat as winner. The judges were split as to which contestant had the best chile verde in what they said was an extremely tough decision.
Judging the cookoff were The Californian's Executive Editor Robert Price and Director of Audience Development Louis Amestoy (no relation to the bar's founders); Kern Federal Credit Union marketing manager Miranda Whitworth; Virgin Airlines pilot Richard Rhoades; and Matt Munoz, marketing director for the Bakersfield Museum of Art.
Whitworth said a good chile verde should have a "complexity of flavors."
"The long savoriness of the sauce," is what makes the dish special for Amestoy.
"And the tenderness of the meat," added Price.
As with the adjustments that can be made to the chile verde recipe, there may be endless reasons and arguments as to what makes one particular version better than another. In the end, trust mom's recipe.
She's probably right; it's the best.