Buchanan businesses participate in annual Chili Walk contest
Published 8:00 am Monday, March 24, 2014
By DEBRA HAIGHT
Special to Leader Publications
Red or white, spicy or mild and even sweet, people attending the Buchanan Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual Chili Cookoff Thursday were sure to find a chili to their liking in downtown Buchanan.
Mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the 40s didn’t seem too bad for those venturing out to taste the 24 different chilis prepared by local chefs. This was the eighth annual chili walk which is co-sponsored by Buchanan Meadows.
This year’s celebrity judges were Berrien County Sheriff’s Department Undersheriff Chuck Heit, WYTZ “Y Country” morning personality “Wild Bill” Lewis and Buchanan High School Robotics Club advisor Phil Place. The proceeds from this year’s chili walk will go to benefit the robotics club, which is starting its first year of robotics competition.
An estimated 500 local residents came out to taste the various kinds of chili.
Residents Ben Daniel and Adena Avance were the first in line at the Buchanan District Library late Thursday afternoon. The library is the starting and ending point for the chili walk. While Daniel was looking to sample just the chicken or veggie chili entries, Avance said she likes all kinds of chili.
Another early participant in the chili walk was Dan Riley of Buchanan. He comes every year and decided to come a little bit early this year to avoid the crowds.
“It’s always crowded when I come by here (D. Mottl Realty) with a line out the door, so I decided to stop by here first,” he said.
He and others stopping by the real estate office could enjoy three different chilis, one by Dorothy Mottl called “Last Minute Chili,” one by Kyle Belew called “Cinnamon Merlot Chili” and one by Joel Yazell called “Cholo’s Chili.”
Another popular stop on the chili walk was the Ross-Sanders House, which until last December housed the city police department. City Manager/Police Chief William Marx held court there along with Building Inspector Guy Lewis. The two have a friendly chili competition each year with each winning the cookoff at least once.
“We like to compete against each other,” Marx said. “We had a blind taste test at city hall and the vote came out tied. I’ve won best chili once and Guy has won both best chili and best chili name.”
Marx said he tries to add something new every year to make it a little different. This year he included coriander, cloves and some red wine vinegar to “tang” up the chili. His was called “Chief’s Loaded Chili.” Lewis’ entry called “You’ll Like This! Chili” featured the usual ingredients plus some hard cider.
The Hilltop Cafe entry in the cookoff was deemed to be one of the spiciest by several people and captured the award for best chili name with their “Chili Chili Bang Bang.” Dion Bouzas and Maria Cullum were dishing out the Hilltop chili inside Guys & Dolls on Front Street.
This year, the judges’ choice award went to United Federal Credit Union with their “2 A.M. Chili” which was one of two chilis to be found at the Buchanan Art Center at the west end of the chili walk.
The people’s choice award this year went to Country Heritage Credit Union with their “Grandma’s Chili” which people could find at Sandy’s Floral Boutique on Days Avenue. Fran Terry of Country Heritage said their chili entry this year was a white chicken chili.
“We haven’t won before,” she said. “We all enjoyed it and had fun.”
Sherrie Daniel of Havens Retreat didn’t win anything, but certainly had one of the more unique chilis. She described her “Chocolate Cherry Chili” as a dessert chili and said she decided to make one with chocolate, cherries, nuts, jelly beans and whipped cream after noticing that there was no dessert chili last year.
Chamber executive director Randy Hendrixson said he was pleased with the response this year, both with the number of people coming down to taste the chilis and the quality of the chilis in the cookoff.
“We had a lot of super competitive chilis,” he said. “The last 10 ballots we counted made the difference, there were four chilis at the top. It was also a hard choice for the judges, they deliberated for a half hour.”
Hendrixson said the goal of the chili walk is not only to bring people downtown but also get them inside the stores and restaurants so they’ll come back later to shop and dine. “This makes people comfortable and wanting to come back,” he said. “I had people tell me that it was the first time they had been inside some of the stores and they were going to come back.”