10/21/12 — Cooks heating up for Really Chili cook-off

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Cooks heating up for Really Chili cook-off

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on October 21, 2012 1:50 AM

For about a quarter century, the Wednesday Night Crew has come together most weeks to cook out, shoot pool and play cards.

Saturday morning, however, the group will come together for a new purpose: to compete for a chili championship.

Chris Sasser, his son Tyler, and the entire crew will take their chili recipe, perfected over a generation, into the fray at the Really Chili Challenge, which will kick off at 11 a.m. downtown.

Teams from across the county will offer their chili to judges -- and the public for a $5 tasting fee -- until 2 p.m. when the winners will be announced.

Awards will be given out for first, second and third place, People's Choice and Best Booth, although the captain of the Wednesday Night Crew said his son, who attended the competition last year, is confident his Wednesday Night chili will make it an easy choice for judges and tasters alike.

"The ones he said won have been close to what we do," he said. "He says ours is a lot better."

Sasser was tight-lipped about his recipe, but did mention he tends to include egg in everything, something he may find on his face if first-year competitor Tech Sgt. Maria Taylor's prediction comes true.

Taylor, the cook for the 56/Eagles team made up of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base airmen, has cooked competitively and last year placed second in a competition with her chili, although this is her first time as a Really Chili Challenger.

Backed by a team of airmen representing the 56 and EAGLES groups on base, she has enough confidence to not need a strategy outside of trusting her instincts.

"You just have to cook from the heart," she said.

The team revealed few specifics about the recipe outside of apple sausage and wine, but one thing that won't be in short supply is confidence.

"We're going to win," Staff Sgt. Miranda Kelewood said succinctly. "We're going to win and have fun.

Staff Sgt. James Ward said all indications he's seen point to a winner.

"I've seen the grocery lists and we've got a good chance," he said.

The N.C. Wesleyan College Goldsboro team isn't quite done making its shopping list for its chili, but Laura Estes, director of the program, said venison would be involved.

She said the team is getting together Monday to collaborate on the chili recipe, which she envisions will be chunky and contain many types of beans.

"I've made chili all my life," she said. "Every time I've ever made chili its with whatever is in the cupboard. We're going to put our heads together and come up with, I hope, a good chili."

Whatever her team creates, however, will probably face stiff competition from Ragin' Cajun Chili, this year's offering from R.A. Jeffreys.

After taking first place last year with their Chernobyl Chili, Todd Moore said his team wanted to take its theme in a new direction -- specifically, south to the bayou.

Their Cajun-inspired chili will be spicier than previous entries, he said, but the team still won't be changing much else.

"It will have similar ingredients, but we'll just step it up a notch or two," he said.

Keeping in mind that the judges will be looking for a chili they wouldn't mind eating every day -- a desert island chili -- he said the team won't change its base, just as it hadn't any year since the competition began.

"We've always had a good chili, but the judges got it right last year," he said. "People always love the chili. We always run out."

Competition aside, he said it's always good to see the returners and newcomers at the cookoff who are all out there for a good cause.

"We'll be out there to raise money for the Soup Kitchen," he said. "We may not win it but we'll give it our best."

And according to Community Soup Kitchen Director Doricia Benton, the needs for funding are growing.

The kitchen is on pace to serve 35,000 meals this year, an increase of 2,000 since 2011, she said.

Daily meals are also outpacing averages, she said. While the kitchen usually hands out about 120 hot meals a day, they've had numbers as high as 182 in recent weeks and served nearly 1,800 just in the first two weeks of October.