Battle of the chilis
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 27, 2012 11:30 PM
Ellie Saylors, 10 months, shows her empty sample cup that was once full of chili. More than 1,000 people visited the chili cookoff fundraiser Saturday for the Community Soup Kitchen.
Micah Thompson Ryals lined up two tiny cups of chili on a table set up in the Family YMCA gym Saturday morning, poised to dip a little white spoon in to taste them.
The occasion was the sixth annual Really Chili Challenge -- a fundraiser for the Community Soup Kitchen -- and while its original outdoor venue had been moved Friday afternoon in anticipation of possible stormy weather, for the Fremont youth it was a good day.
His dad, Isaac Ryals of Fremont, said this was the first year he had been able to attend.
"I have a friend who's actually a volunteer here and he has been inviting me for the last two years. This year was the only time I was available," Isaac said. "(Micah's) been excited about it all day."
For a 4-year-old, the samples might have been a tad spicy. But Micah didn't seem to mind.
"He tasted at least six so far," his dad said.
Center Stage Theater members dressed in costume for their booth, "Baja Humbug Chili," a homage to this year's production of "A Christmas Carol," said cast member Allison Taylor.
Mike Saviak, Center Stage treasurer and team's chief cook, said the event was a good way to promote the upcoming show.
This was their second year taking part, he said. Last year's president, Wesley Dills, wasn't able to be there but gave Saviak a few pointers.
"I added some things -- seven to eight types of chilis, about four different types of beans and a few other things," he said.
Saviak said going into the competition he felt optimistic about their chances. Nathan Bradshaw, director of the group's Christmas show, agreed.
"I'm very confident," he said. "This is even better than we had last year. It's got more kick to it."
The group didn't win in the taste category, but was named second-place booth winner.
First-place booth winner was The News-Argus, with a newspaper theme that included staff members dressed in newsboy hats and a large-scale edition of "The Chili Chronicle" featuring articles about everything from Elvis sightings to missing mobster Jimmy Hoffa.
Third-place booth winner was "Ghosts of Chilis Past." Cook Kevin Grundmeier was unwilling to share the secret ingredient that set his group's chili apart from the pack, except to say "there's one ingredient in there that's a little bit outside the ordinary."
This marked Maj. Al King of the Goldsboro Police Department's third year as a judge at the event.
While the team of judges was basically ranking the various concoctions on such things as color, taste, texture and aroma, he said there was no official training required for the job.
"If you have taste buds, you're talented," King said with a smile.
Zaxby's doesn't sell chili, yet. But Richard Gower, manager, dipping out chili at the restaurant's booth, said it is not out of the realm of possibility.
"We have catered after this (event)," he said. "People request it and on special occasions we have it for people we know."
Ingredients from the restaurant, including chicken tenders, do go into the stew, he said.
"It was actually created out of a mistake," he said, recalling his staff preparing an order of 40 buffalo fingers, only to discover it was supposed to have been "regular" chicken fingers. His wife, Lauren, suggested a way to salvage the loss.
"We placed fifth last year," Gower said. "We're hoping to do better this year."
The "fried chicken chili" fared well, earning the restaurant third place in the contest.
"We enjoy this. It's our favorite activity of the year," the manager said. "We just enjoy the camaraderie."
Last year's winning team, from R.H. Jeffreys, was another returnee, this time with a different twist -- "a taste of Florida," said Styles Horvath, attributing that to the addition of a bloody Mary mixer.
"It's different this year," he said. "We actually went for more of a Cajun-style chili."
Beneath the "Pirate Nation" tent, Kimberly Church explained she was there to support fiancé Matt Steed, who is team captain and works at the little bank.
It was the group's second time there, she said.
"So we're a little more relaxed this year," she said. "We know what to do."
The entry didn't place last year, Ms. Church said, but had received some "good pointers" from the judges.
"They suggested adding a little more kick to it, so we think we accomplished that this year," she said.
One booth set out to prove that chili can be good for what ails you.
"Doctor Chili's Germ Kickin' Chili" featured a recipe by Jeff Pitta, a physician's assistant at Immediate Care. The group has previously fared well at the competition, having received first-, second- and third-place prizes.
Pitta said he didn't make any changes to the recipe.
"Stick with what we've got. It works," he said.
Doug Vinson, a member of Fremont United Methodist Church, manned the "Church Pew Chili" booth. This was the group's first time participating, he said, describing their entry as "a little bit of Italian/Mexican" chili.
"I'm a cook at the Elks Lodge but this is the first competition I have entered," he said. "We're rookies."
Despite the last-minute change in location, the inclement weather held off and the crowd was steady and strong, with Fire Chief Gary Whaley estimating the turnout at nearly 1,000 people.
Organizers said they were pleased with the 13 entrants and the turnout.
"I think it's been great. I'm so pleased," said Scottie Weathers, chairperson of the Community Soup Kitchen board. "(Hurricane) Sandy kind of got in the way but I'm thrilled to death. Considering the change of venue and all that, I think it's wonderful.
"We really appreciate all the support of the community. We served over 180 people one day last week (at the soup kitchen). That's just unbelievable. Our business is to go out of business."
Phyllis and Gary Patterson, co-chairs of the event for the second year, have been volunteers since it started.
"We had to revamp (Friday)," Mrs. Patterson said. "My fear was for the wind to pick up and one of the tents to blow and somebody to get hit.
"Thankfully, the Y was gracious enough and the teams and the judges were all willing to make the changes with us. Everyone seems to think we made the right decision and if somebody missed us because of the change, we're very sorry."
The generosity of the community was particularly impressive, the couple said. In addition to the event support, they said they had stood outside of Sam's Club a few weeks ago and called the public response "phenomenal."
One employee of Sam's, Vicki Mozingo, a greeter who has become a one-woman fundraiser, also put out a plea to raise money for the Soup Kitchen on her own. She said Saturday she "just wanted to be a blessing" and an anonymous local business, which gave her $500 last year, doubled it and donated $1,000 this year.
Final tally of the profits made from the event were not announced by presstime, but the organizers termed it a success.
"It all helps to feed the hungry," Patterson said. "That's what this is all about."
First-place finisher was "The Loving Spoonfuls," representing T.A. Loving Co., which also earned the People's Choice Award for raising $702 out of the total $1,885 brought in.
Second place was a new entry this year, 56th Eagles from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.