Now in its seventh year, the chili cookoff was the brainchild of three friends during summer 2007.
Mike Crane of Salina, one of the organizers, said within three months after talking with Superintendent Steve Hudson about the idea, the cookoff was launched.
?Roy Patton, Bob McCurdy and myself walked to the 200-plus houses (at the lake) and let residents know what we were doing,? Crane said.
The first year drew seven to nine chili recipes, he said, but the number has grown.
?We had 17 (entries) this year and last year we had the most at 19,? he said.
Crane said he thinks the weather played a role in the lower turnout.
?It?s just a great community activity and money goes to the lake,? he said. ?Because this is not a serious chili cookoff, sometimes favoritism is shown (when voting for a winner).?
In 2010, it was decided the competitors should vote among themselves, Crane said, and the winner would receive a chili pepper trophy.
?I have sought after that trophy and would love to have it,? he said.
Finding an edge
Saturday?s chili cookoff at Marion County Park and Lake brought in an estimated $1,200 for improvements, according to Brian Thiessen, assistant superintendent.
When it comes to winning, Crane said ?nothing is below us.?
Years back, he said the Chippendales, Wichita Ta-Ta?s and others would have a theme or represent different sponsorships.
In more recent years, chili competitors are trying other unique angles.
Ty Gaines of Madison, 20 miles south of Emporia, came with impressive trophies at his table?until taste-testers looked closely.
The trophies were actually ?yard sale? baseball trophies with spoons taped to the bats and chef hats taped to the batter?s head.
?I am doing whatever it takes to win,? Gaines said with a smile. ?Last year, sitting next to our table, we had a guy by us and he had all these trophies he actually won.?
Gaines said he has been coming to the cookoff for the past four years and hasn?t won yet. But he continues to work at it.
Marcy Davis of Wichita said she and her mother, Barbara McCurdy, have won three of four times, but not all of the winnings were first place.
?We make our chili different every year,? she said. ?One year it was hamburger, another buffalo and the first place award was for our turkey chili.
?It?s fun and we don?t care if we win.?
Bob and Jeanette Cox were this year?s second-place winners. It was also the first year they were able to compete.
?We wanted to join the rest of the crowd by supporting the lake, but this was the first time we didn?t have a Veteran of Foreign Wars meeting to attend,? Bob said.
Bob said his chili included beer, bacon, corn, sausage and hamburger.
?We also bribed people with our homemade cinnamon rolls,? he said.
Billy Frary of Newton said this was his third year. He said sweetness made his chili special.
?We keep ours sweet with a little spice to it and it seems to do very well each year,? he said. ?Last year we took third place.
Rick Myers of Newton said he likes to add ?a few? chopped peppers to his chili, but for most people it was more than a few.
Peggy Wilson, one of the taste-testers, said she could see the peppers in the chili and thought it was going to be hot.
?I am afraid to eat it,? she said.
But after taking her first taste she said, ?Not bad.?
Within a second, not bad changed to: ?Oh, yes, it is bad…oh my gosh, it is extremely spicy.?
Without water handy, Wilson went for a package of candy at the next table.
?I think it is good,? she said, ?but then again, I am not sure.?
First place went to Kevin Leffler for his ?Thunder Struck? chili recipe. In addition to his trophy, Leffler also received $100.
Second place, a trophy and $50 went to Bob Cox for his ?Real Bob?s Chili.?
Third place, a chili pot and $35 was awarded to Keith and Lori Koop for their ?No Beard Chili.?
The competitor trophy was presented to Janice Deboer of Topeka for her ?Outhouse Chili.?