It wasn’t exactly “chili” weather for the annual “Great Chili Cookoff” here last Friday.
Under sunny skies and with the mercury edging up around 21 C (70 F), nearly 400 people milled in and out of the tent set up at the Fort Frances Times parking lot to taste the creations of 13 chefs.
And by the time all was said and done, most chili contenders had sold out, with Riverside’s Andy Lesko walking away with “Best Chili” honours in the judges’ choice category with his “Yer’ In Trouble Chili.”
Jack Fiset took second place with his “Cactus Jacks’s Death Valley Chili while reigning champ Reeve Brian Reid of Emo fell to third place.
Fun in the Sun Queen Raelle Ducharme, Darryl Allan, and Geoff Gillon were the judges this year.
But it was the duo of Dave LaRocque and Darcy Neufeld who won the “People’s Choice” award for “Darc ‘n’ Dave’s Famous Chili.”
Lesko, who claimed last week his chili was “an old family recipe with a bit of a bite,” was unavailable for comment on his win. But his wife, Janis, and friend Debbie Logan agreed he was all smiles over the award.
In fact, he already had made some critical notes to defend his title at next year’s cookoff.
“He did this all own—he’s a great cook!” Janis Lesko noted. “I’m proud as punch of him. He’s ready to defend his title and is looking forward to it.”
“He went home and made note of the changes he’d made to his recipe so that he would have them for next year,” smiled Logan.
Besides deeming the cookoff an overwhelming success, organizers also took a few notes and discovered a marked increase in the number of people who chose to sample all 13 chilis instead of going for a bowl of just one kind.
“75 percent were [sample] tasters and only 25 percent chose bowls,” noted Times office manager Linda Plumridge. “That’s great. That’s the whole fun of it.”
And while a tally of the proceeds is still forthcoming, things look good for area food banks due to receive money from the cookoff and cake roulette.
“It was a real big success—probably one of the best yet,” noted Times staffer Susan Martin, who co-ordinated the cookoff this year. “And we couldn’t have asked for a better day.”
Plumridge issued a big thank you to Martin for heading up the event, noting she’d already been asked to co-ordinate the cookoff again next year.
Darryl Allan, who is the town’s administration and finance manager when he isn’t judging chili, penned “No losers here” on his scorecard. He said the cookoff was a pleasure to attend.
“It was great and I had a good time. Everybody had good chili and I’d chow down willingly at any event,” he chuckled.
Ducharme and Gillon could not be reached for comment.
Among the crowd on hand was John Pohanka, who spent quite a while savouring his 13 samples of chili. This was his third year attending the cookoff.
“I’ve always sampled the chili because I wanted to taste the differences. Besides, how could I choose the best one if I didn’t do that,” he chuckled, admitting his favourite batch this year was “Cactus Jack’s Death Valley Chili.”
Salvation Army envoys Eric and Sylvia Alcock also were on hand to sample the chili. The couple recently moved here from the Oshawa area, and this was the first time they had attended such an event aimed at raising money for food bank supplies.
“We’ve never attended one like this as a fundraiser. It was lots of fun and a great opportunity for us to meet new people in an informal setting,” he noted.
Amid rating the chili samples, the Alcocks even mulled over the idea of entering as contenders next year. “My wife makes a great chili. We’ll look at [the possibility] come next year,” he said.
Meanwhile, chili contender Lois Witherspoon, of the La Verendrye hospital auxilairy, said she and co-worker Marnee Miller had a wonderful time serving up their “Aux-Y-Gen Chili.” And even though they did not place in the winner’s circle, they said it had been a worthwhile experience.
“The reasons we got involved were [two-fold],” Witherspoon said yesterday. “Number one, we felt we should be making [the auxiliary] a little more visible.
“And when I re-read the auxiliary prayer, I thought we should live up to what it says—and take into consideration the [needs] of other people,” she added.
“[The cookoff] is a community event and it’s important,” she concluded.