With Christmas approaching next month, cookie season is in full effect. Delicious baked goods of all shapes, sizes and flavors will be flying in and out of the oven for holiday guests, as well as the big guy in the red suit and the flying sleigh. But it seems Santa Claus won’t be the only one pigging out and sampling the best cookies Milwaukee cooks have to offer.
On Sunday, Dec. 14, Matt Timms will bring his Takedown home cook competition series to Turner Hall Ballroom. In the past, Timms has hosted Mac ‘n’ Cheese Takedowns in Milwaukee, but this year, he’s bringing a much sweeter competition to town: a Cookie Takedown.
"I started doing Cookie Takedowns about six years ago," Timms said. "I just told cooks to make a bunch of cookies and bring them in, and the crowds are going to try each cookie and vote on the yummiest."
For $15, cookie fans can channel their inner Cookie Monsters, sampling over 30 of the tastiest – and craziest – cookies local home cooks have to offer, along with some eggnog and other boozy special holiday drinks to wash them down. At the end of the night, Timms will hand out cash and cookware prizes for the crowd’s favorite cookie, as well as the judges’ favorite.
Twelve years ago, when Timms created and hosted the first Takedown in Brooklyn, the dish of choice was more savory in nature: chili. For Timms, it was the perfect logistical pick.
"As a starving actor, I was super obsessed with chili," Timms said. "First off, it’s a great food to have in a fridge for weeks. The flavors just kind of get better with age. You just make a big pot of it, and you’re good; you’re not starving."
As he followed chili competitions around town, he noticed many of the contests featured lots of rules that restricted the cooks’ creativity and possibilities.
"I wanted beans in chili and tomatoes in chili," Timms said. "These kind of rules are stupid. You can make either a super conservative, brilliant, very simple chili, or you could make the kitchen sink chili. And I always go toward the kitchen sink. So I made my own no rules chili competition."
The first Chili Takedown was modestly hosted in Timms’ Brooklyn apartment, but the tasty little parties flourished, having to eventually expand to local bars. From there, the press got word of Timms’ growing low-key cook-offs, and the number of competitors and hungry food enthusiasts in attendance grew even bigger. A little over a decade after the humble first event, the Takedown series has foodie footholds in about 10 to 15 cities across the country, ranging from chili to soup to ice cream to mac ‘n’ cheese to tofu to avocado to, of course, cookies.
"The best thing is the lack of pretense," Timms said. "It’s all home cooks, so it’s all really, really sincere people getting a blowhorn. Usually, they only get to tell a couple of people about their gift."
At the time of our interview, Timms said they already had 30 cooks signed up to put their best cookie forward, but there are still plenty of spots still available, and there is no deadline for application. The only real rules for the Cookie Takedown is that the competitor has to be a home cook, the competitor has to make 250 of their particular cookie and Timms prefers the cookie of choice to be baked.
"People kind of flip out if a bark wins, which is basically just a glorified cracker dipped in fudge," Timms explained. "There’s a couple of cookies that are more like confections, so people flip out."
Other than that, however, the creative options are unlimited, and Timms has seen them all – the good, the bad and the ugly.
"I remember the first time I did this thing, my old babysitter – who I hadn’t seen for like 30 years – stopped by randomly and showed up with a bacon and blue cheese cookie," Timms recalled. "It was easily the weirdest cookie I’ve ever seen. It was insane, and it didn’t even work. It was a total failure."
On the other hand, for those aiming for victory, Timms has noticed one element over the years that the winning cookies have in common.
"It’s the texture that’s the most important thing," Timms said. "You could have the most accessible shortbread or a Sriracha pinwheel crazy-ass toffee cookie. As long as I think the texture is there and people think they nailed it, it’s there. People tend to go really highly experimental or they go super classic; either way, people have a good time with it."
For Timms, however, it’s the former category – the highly experimental – that tend to make the biggest impact and the fondest memories, even if it results in another bacon and blue cheese cookie.
"I loved it," Timms said. "That’s the great thing about these Takedowns: People go nuts in the kitchen, they totally experiment and they don’t necessarily get it right. Or they do. So there’s a lot to talk about, heroes and villains. It’s a good social event, with a lot to talk about and a lot to party with."
And who knows; maybe Santa will turn up as well to have an early sample of what to expect Christmas Eve night.
To register for the Milwaukee Cookie Showdown, email Matt Timms at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.