Archived Story

Chili cookers fired up

Published 9:12pm Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The stakes are getting higher for a hot battle in Dowagiac.
As Dowagiac’s 16th annual Ice Time festival returns to the central business district Feb. 4, organizers have upped the award money for its Amateur Chili Cook-off.
The first-place winner will win a $50 Universal Dowagiac Gift Certificate. Second place will receive $25 with the third-place finisher receiving $10.
According to festival organizers, the first documented chili cook-off took place in 1967 in Terlingua, a remote ghost town in Texas.
Like gossip, the idea spread. Since then, communities large and small have hosted competitions. Here in Michigan, while some love it hot, others like it mild, though most agree it’s one of the best ways to warm up on a blustery winter afternoon.
“If you have a great recipe for chili, this is your opportunity to lay claim to the best homemade chili in town,” Badner said.
The amateur division is open to home cooks, ages 18 to 108. Advance registration forms are available at the Chamber in the train depot or by calling the office at 782-8212.  A $5 nonrefundable entry fee is required by Monday.
“While amateurs are planning their strategy, local restaurateurs will tell you there’s nothing mild about the festival’s Professional Chili Cook-off that sends long-time competitors back to the kitchen to make their best recipes,” Badner said.
The Professional Chili Cook-off is open to the public free of charge, with sample-size containers served from 1 to 4 p.m. Feb. 4. Host sites are located downtown or within easy walking distance to the central business district, which is why locals refer to this popular auxiliary event as “the chili crawl.”
Patti Badner, co-charman of the festival, said five-time winner Beeson Street Bar and Grill, which gave up the traveling trophy to 2011 winner Wood Fire Italian Trattoria, was the first restaurant to sign up for this year’s challenge in hopes of bringing back the trophy. Zeke’s Restaurant, Wounded Minnow Saloon and Dowagiac Eagles have also signed up.
“Unlike the professional division judged by the public, a three-person panel of judges will select the winner of the amateur division,” Badner said.
Judges include Robert Cochrane, director of Cass County COA; Mark Daniel, superintendent of Dowagiac Union Schools; Barb Groner, president of Dowagiac Rotary Club; Mayor Don Lyons; Joy A. Strand, administrator and chief operating officer of Borgess-Lee Memorial Hospital; Cass County Sheriff Joseph Underwood; and Matthew  Wesaw, tribal council  chairman of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians.
Badner said, on the day of the festival, contestants should prepare a crockpot of four quarts or less of their homemade chili off-site and deliver it to the corner of Front and Commercial streets by 11:45 a.m.
They should keep their chili in a clean, working crockpot, labeled with their name and type of chili, such as beef, turkey or vegetarian.
Contestants should be prepared to provide judges with a written list of the ingredients used.
They should also supply a serving ladle and an extension cord of at least six feet.
Serving tables and a power source will be provided by the festival.
Judging for the amateur division is at noon with announcement of the winners expected by 12:30 p.m.
Underwriters of this year’s $10,000 community event are Platinum Sculpture Sponsors Lyons Industries, Kemner-Iott Agency of Cass County and Hastings Mutual, Swiss Valley Ski Resort and The Pokagon Fund; Gold Sculpture Sponsors Dowagiac Area Federal Credit Union and Dowsett Chiropractic Health Center; and Silver Sculpture Sponsor Yazel and Clark Funeral Chapel.
The highlight of the winter arts festival is life-size works of art carved from 440-pound ice blocks, as members of the Michiana Ice Carving Association compete for awards in the competition at Beckwith Park that opens at 1 p.m. Ice artisans will also carve single-block ice sculptures along Front Street sidewalks, beginning at 8 a.m.
Ice Time events also include the annual Winter Hibernation and Pajama Sale; Ladies Library Association winter book sale; timber carving demonstration and silent art auction; an exhibition by Fruitbelt Wood Carvers in the front entrance to Round Oak Restaurant; the Hot Spot warming station on Commercial Street, where Smokin’ Good Barbecue will be, along with the Department of Public Safety preparing s’mores over a campfire; and children’s events at The Gift of Namaste, The Red Raven and Who Knew? Consignment.
Businesses that would like to sponsor a street carving or organizations that would like to appear at the event are encouraged to contact the Chamber at (269) 782-8212; www.DowagiacChamber.com.

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