They came. They bought their tickets. They ate chili.
In the end, those who shelled out $12 per ticket Saturday night for the Kenosha History Center’s 13th annual Chili Cook-Off had a gas and, well, no doubt made gas while supporting the yearly fundraiser.
Seven local restaurants, one local caterer and two International Association of Fire Fighters locals vied for top honors in the People’s Choice and Judges’ Choice awards.
Chris Allen, the center’s executive director, declared the event a winner all the way around.
“Great music, great chili, great beer, great people. What more could you ask for?” Allen said, putting attendance at 300. “Turnout was great. We had people lined up outside when we opened the doors at 5:30.”
The money raised goes toward helping to preserve the Kenosha area’s history.
“This is our biggest annual fundraiser,” Allen said. “We always bring in a few thousand dollars with this. All the chili that’s brought in tonight is basically an in-kind donation. Without the businesses and firefighters, we couldn’t do this.”
Competing every year since 2009, David Perez, owner of Kenosha-based Chef David’s Catered Events, has long garnered first place for the People’s Choice Award. He did so again Saturday night.
“The only year I didn’t was in 2015. That year, I won Judges’ Choice,” Perez said. “I really don’t have a set recipe. I just wing it.
“It really starts with quality ingredients. I use all hand-cut sirloin and pork. I don’t have any fat. I trim it all off so it’s very lean. And I use eight different types of peppers, fresh and dried. I reconstitute the dried peppers and make a puree.”
Co-owners Janice Barnill and Julie Zorn celebrated their entry for The Coffee Pot, 4914 Seventh Ave., a popular Harborside restaurant, garnering second place in People’s Choice.
“You know, it’s all in the love,” Barnhill and Zorn harmonized spontaneously when asked for their secret.
“We have a very classic recipe,” Barnhill said. “It’s a good combo for our Chili & Cheese Omelet. We cook it overnight so it gets nice and thick. Secret ingredients? Actually, no. I think it’s just the method.”
Angela Preston, the new owner of Grabs Burger Bar, 2324 18th St., was aglow after the recipe by Michelle Mounce, one of her two chefs along with Daniel Shinn, took the Judges’ Choice Award.
This was the first time Grabs entered the fundraiser. Said Preston, who bought the restaurant June 1: “We’re trying to get more exposure. It was fun. We’ll definitely come back.”
The chefs held back on fully disclosing what apparently won over the judges’ taste buds.
“Extra meaty,” Shinn said. “With guajillo and ancho peppers.”
“And just a blend of house seasoning. We don’t want to give it all away,” Preston said coyly.
Where there’s smoke...
Meanwhile, IAFF Local 4831, whose members serve on the Somers Fire & Rescue Department, placed third in the People’s Choice voting, winning their first award ever in the seven years they’ve participated.
They happened to have a cozy spot in the cook-off area, smack in front of an antique Somers fire engine and alongside Local 414, whose members serve on the Kenosha Fire Department.
Somers Capt. Scott Schoenfeld said their entry was cooked up by fellow Capt. Joe Scruggs, who was on duty Saturday night and couldn’t attend the event.
“It was kind of a combination of all our shifts’ chilis. I had ground beef, sirloin, bacon, chorizo and pastor sausage,” Schoenfeld said. “We’ve won a lot of awards with our chili, but this is the first time we won here.”
As for the entry offered by their neighboring rivals from Local 414, Schoenfeld joked, “We told them their Dalmatians wouldn’t eat their chili, so they had to bring it here.”