Palm Coast, FL (December 5, 2021) With 26 chili cooks from around the nation ready to vie for a slot in the world championships next fall, judges had their mouths full and pencils at the ready to score two days’ worth of world class chili.
Up from Ft. Lauderdale, Michael Powers said it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere, and with a table full of hardware it’s easy to see he takes competitive chili cooking seriously. After qualifying in two categories on Saturday, he was out with his team on Sunday giving it another go.
“We’re here with the family enjoying our day with everybody that’s out here at the chili cook off,” said Powers. “It’s a definite hobby for us. I have a regular job like everybody else but it’s something we started many years ago and the family really gets involved. And … I’m a little bit competitive.”
“We’re hoping to get our name called last,” he joked, indicating a first place win.
New Hampshire chili boss Lori Skinner drew in crowds with her Mardi Gras themed booth, before serving up a taste of her “Mardi Gas Chili”, while Jim and Robin Sulsona whipped up batches of their Atlanta, Georgia-based homestyle and traditional red recipes.
The youngest of the participants paired Jeremy Mall, a 26-year old high school culinary arts teacher with 21-year old Bryton Fissenden, both from Gainesville, Florida, as “Two Bros Chili”. Entering in their second chili cook off ever, Mall’s competitive streak kicked in after they placed second in their first competition.
“I’ve been making chili for years now and I decided recently I make pretty good chili,” said Mall. “Food is my life. Chili competitions, I would definitely do this for the rest of my life. It’s been so much fun.”
New to the kitchen, Fissenden said not only has he learned about making chili, but has been picking up tips in the kitchen.
“I’ve learned the proper way to cut vegetables, trade secrets on cutting onions, and also combining flavors and textures,” he shared.
Winners of the two day event earn a spot in the world finals tentatively slated for Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in the fall of 2022 according to International Chili Society manager Vickie Marnick.
“Having a two day event actually attracts more cooks. It makes it worth their time, effort and money,” she said.
“The location is the biggest thing. Snowbirds want to be down here where it’s warm so a lot of them come for that reason, but when a cook off is well run like Heather has it here, they’re eager to come back,” said Marnick.
Chili heads as they are known, have deep connections to the communities in which they live and visit, and each chili cook off has a charitable component. The Palm Coast Chili Cook Off features Flagler County nonprofit Teens-In-Flight, providing a financial giveback as well as an opportunity for the organization to share their mission with visitors.
“It’s fantastic. We’ve been doing this for a couple of years now and they’ve always been very supportive of our efforts,” said Howell, who is on a mission to raise $90,000 in matching funds for a grant that will provide a permanent hangar for the youth flight program and three aircraft.
Organizing the event for the fifth year, Heather Thompson says the chili cooks are more like family, and she’s sure to treat them well when they head in for the Palm Coast event.
“It’s just like they’re my family. Larry Weltikol has been doing this since 1989 and he’s introduced me to all these amazing people, even had some of the cooks stay at the house last night,” said Thompson. “To be able to host this and give them a chance to win $25,000 in the world finals makes me happy.”
Volunteer Cheryl Bensley attended her first chili cook off this year, lending a hand and getting know people after moving to Palm Coast from New York several years ago.
“Between helping Heather out I got to taste the chili. I’ve been living here for four years now and never came to a chili event, and now, I’m hooked,” she said.
For a complete list of winners, visit www.chilicookoff.com.