Some like it hot: Chilifest ushers in a savory season

October 16, 2013 10:02:03 AM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


What's not to love about autumn? Lap blankets on game day, hayrides, pumpkins on the porch -- and chili. Hot, mild, beef, chicken, sausage, beans, bean-less, vegetarian. However you prefer yours, it's about time to stock up on ingredients and pull out that big pot.  


More than 700 chili tasters turned out Friday at the Mississippi State Amphitheater to sample recipes served up by 18 teams participating in the Starkville Junior Auxiliary's second annual Chilifest. Team themes and names ranged from a "Duck Dynasty" spin-off to First Baptist Church's WILD bunch (Walking in Love Daily).  


The Chilifest idea originated with JA member Mamie Kosko, who had attended a similar event in Galveston, Texas, a few years ago. 


"It was so much fun! I really wanted to start one in Starkville," said Kosko. "I thought it would be the perfect family event and a great fundraiser for JA." Proceeds from Chilifest support the organization's many services to the children of Oktibbeha County, including the Backpack Program, Girl Talk, Stuff the Bus, JA Pals and assistance to teachers in providing enrichment activities at the T.K. Martin Center. 




Team spirit and spices 


Once Marc McGee and Zach Rowland got good-naturedly "volunteered" as chili chefs for the Starkville Rotary Club team, they decided that if they were going to do it, they were going to do it right. That meant starting four nights in advance of Chilifest, grinding meats and customizing a blend of spices, giving the flavors plenty of time to come together. Exact ingredients and measurements will remain a closely-guarded secret. 


"I will tell you this, our base was sausage and stew meat and we had three different kinds of beans -- baked beans, pinto beans and kidney beans," revealed McGee, who, when not in a chef's apron, is director of MSU's Research and Technology Corp. and Thad Cochran Research, Technology and Economic Development Park.  


A fortunate miscalculation in multiplying recipe ingredients in order to produce 5 gallons of chili turned out to be a good thing. Instead, the team had enough to make 10 gallons, and they still very nearly ran out Friday. All their efforts paid off. Starkville Rotary Club took first place in the People's Choice Awards, and won the Flavor Savor Award (best aftertaste) from a panel of three judges. 


Both McGee and Rowland are experienced cooks but are "newbies" to the world of chili cook-offs, admitted Rowland, deputy director for MSU's Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems.  


"But it was a lot of fun and it's for the very worthwhile efforts JA is doing -- and like any similar competition, it's an opportunity to do a little trash talking with those who are near and dear to you," said Rowland, predicting he'll participate again next year. 


All signs indicate the crowd-pleasing fundraiser, with its Kids Village and Little Chili Pepper 1-mile fun run, is on track to grow even bigger next year, a win-win for chili fans and the children served by JA as well. 


Kosko said, "We cannot thank everyone enough for the support we have in our community which allows us to give back." 


Chilifest 2013 award winners were People's Choice first place, Starkville Rotary Club; second place, Starkville Young Professionals; third place, George Sherman's. The Judges' Favorite and overall best decor winners were the Hometown Boys. The Aroma Coma award went to WILD (First Baptist Church). Starkville Young Professionals took home the Bully's Bite award (best kick). 


Add spice to your fall with the chili recipes in today's food section. The Tarantula Jack's chili won $25,000 for first place in the International Chili Society's cookoff in 1989. An oldie-but-goodie. 






Makes 6-8 servings 




3 pounds cubed beef  


2 medium Walla Walla Sweet Onions (chopped fine)  


3 large cloves garlic (finely minced)  


2 10-ounce cans chicken broth  


2 12-ounce cans Hunts Tomato Sauce  


7 tablespoons Gebhardt Chili Powder  


2 tablespoons ground cumin  


1/4 teaspoon Tabasco Pepper Sauce 




  • Saute beef in skillet. Put beef into your favorite chili pot and simmer with onions and garlic broth for 1 1/2 hours. Keep your hands off and leave the lid on! 


    Add the Hunts Tomato Sauce, Gebhardt Chili Powder and the ground cumin. Stir. 


  • Fifteen minutes before eatin' time, take off the lid and enjoy the aroma of the greatest chili ever to slide into a melmac bowl. Add the Tabasco. Put the lid back on and simmer for another 15 minutes. Add salt to taste. 


  • It's now ready to serve. Give out the Pepto Bismol samples to all small children and women who wish to eat your chili. Give your empty chili pot to the chili groupies and suggest they use Dawn Detergent to clean it up.  


    (Source: Philip M. Walter; 






    Makes 4 servings 




    1 1/2 cups red onion (chopped, medium) 


    1 cup red bell pepper (chopped, small) 


    8 ounces ground beef (extra lean) 


    2 garlic cloves (minced) 


    1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder 


    2 teaspoons ground cumin 


    1 teaspoon sugar 


    1/2 teaspoon salt 


    1/2 teaspoon dried oregano 


    1 (19 ounce) can red kidney beans (drained) 


    1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes (undrained) 


    1 (14 ounce) can low sodium beef broth 


    1 (12 ounce) bottle of beer 


    1 tablespoons yellow cornmeal 


    1 tablespoon fresh lime juice 




  • Combine first four ingredients in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook 5 minutes or until beef is browned, stirring to crumble. Stir in chili powder, cumin, sugar and salt; cook 1 minute. Add oregano and next four ingredients (through beer) to pan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Stir in cornmeal; cook 5 minutes. Stir in juice. 


    (Source: Jackie Mills, Cooking Light) 






    Makes 8 servings 




    2 tablespoons olive oil 


    3 1/2 pounds ground chuck beef, ground for chili 


    Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper 


    1 large white onion, chopped 


    3 cloves garlic, finely chopped 


    1/2 habanero chile, seeded and very finely chopped 


    1/4 cup chile powder 


    1 tablespoon dried oregano 


    1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin 


    1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper 


    2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes, coarsely chopped with their juices 


    1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for serving 


    1 (12-ounce) bottle amber beer 


    2 (15-ounce) cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed 


    Tortilla chips, for serving 


    Shredded cheddar cheese, for serving 


    Chopped tomatoes, for serving 


    Sour cream, for serving 


    Lime wedges, for serving 




  • In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches if necessary, add beef and cook until no longer pink, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper; drain in a colander, discarding fat, and set aside. 


  • Add remaining tablespoon olive oil to skillet and reduce heat to medium. Add onions, garlic, and habanero; season with salt. Cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. 


  • In a 6-quart Crock-Pot, combine beef, onion mixture, chile powder, oregano, cumin, and cayenne pepper; stir to combine. Add tomatoes, cilantro, and beer; cover and cook on high, stirring occasionally, for 5 hours. 


  • Add kidney beans and season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook, uncovered, until thickened, about 30 minutes. Garnish with cilantro and serve with desired toppings. 



    Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.