Dowagiac students compete in chili cook-off

BENTON TOWNSHIP — Fifty-seven high school students participated Friday in the ninth annual Lake Michigan College Hospitality and Culinary Chili Cook-Off at The Mendel Center’s Grand Upton Hall.

The team Big Bean Theory, of Kalamazoo RESA’s Culinary Arts Program, took first place. According to cook-off judge and LMC chef instructor Luis Amado, the winning team’s chili had the right texture, was not too spicy and had good use of flavorings and herbs.

“This team nailed it,” Amado said.

Culinary instructor Kharen Shelton brought Big Bean Theory to the event, as well as seven other teams, and has been to almost all of the past cook-offs.

“[The event] gives students a chance to work under pressure, meet students from other schools and to have fun while they’re working,” Shelton said. “That’s what career tech is all about — finding a career that you have fun with, that you love.”

The students had one hour and portable butane burners to prepare their original chili and cornbread recipes from scratch.

The dishes were evaluated by a panel of judges including Amado; Shawn Johnson, LMC hospitality and culinary student; Christine Anderson and Alice Archer-Snow, of LMC conference and events services; and David Barrett, LMC instructor.

Besides Kalamazoo RESA, the other teams competing came from Benton Harbor High School, St. Joseph High School and, attending for the first time this year, Dowagiac Union High School.

Instructor Andy Kruger has been teaching healthy lifestyles and other electives at Dowagiac for 18 years, and started the culinary arts program there just this year. The students in his culinary class of 30 competed in their own chili cook-off to choose the team who would go to LMC.

The winners made team member Zech Huston’s grandfather’s chili recipe, and added in wild mushrooms picked by team member Gavin Luthringer and his father, coming up with “Big Bill’s Wild Mushroom Chili.”

Kruger does not have a culinary background, and said he was a little apprehensive about teaching the cooking class.

“I never would have imagined it, but this is my favorite class now,” he said.

He said there is a waiting list for the program, and he hopes to bring more than one team to the LMC Cook-Off next year, when the students will be able to take advantage of a brand new kitchen being built for the class.

Lake Michigan College created the event to give high school students a taste of what a hospitality career might entail. Students learn time management, teamwork, professionalism, and exercise their creativity while meeting other students from around the region.

Some of the other chilis entered included White Chicken Chili (Hot Chili Peppers of Benton Harbor), Chorizo Chipotle Chili (Spicy Boiz of Kalamazoo RESA), and Chicken Enchilada Chili (The Two Amigos of Kalamazoo RESA).

Chili Winners

First place

Big Bean Theory, Kalamazoo RESA, teacher Kharen Shelton

Team members: Amanda Wright, Sydney Diebold, Gavin Bartlett and Rachel Ball

Second place

Netflix and Chili, St. Joseph High School, teacher Lauri Berry

Team members: Daniel Okonski, Ali Koehler, Logan Borah and Gio Tiriticco


Third place

Sleighers, Kalamazoo RESA, teacher Kharen Shelton

Team members: Kenzie Hollenbeck, London Parks, Mariah Henion and Carly Palumbo


Fourth place

The Breakfast Club, St. Joseph High School, teacher Lauri Berry

Team members: McKay Barfuss, Thomas Chen, Yanna Callonnec and Kyle Reck

Fifth place

Hot Chili Peppers, Kalamazoo RESA, teacher Kharen Shelton

Team members: Megan Lawrence, J’Cashion Gilland, Lindsey Bennett


Tablescape Winners

First place

The Good Lookin’ Cookin’s, St. Joseph High School, teacher Lauri Berry

Team members: Ariel Higgins, Tina Nguyen and Anna Wilson

Second place

Hot Chili Peppers, Benton Harbor High School, teacher Gennifer Gunter

Team members: Shawnquay Woodard, Destiny Jordan, Z’nayjah Johnson and Tia Lewis


Third place

Big Bill’s Chili, Dowagiac Schools, teacher Andy Kruger

Team members: Zech Huston, Daniel Rosales, Lindsey Bogen and Gavin Luthringer


Fourth place

Selfie Queens, St. Joseph High School, teacher Lauri Berry

Team members: Caleb McIntosh, Aaron Callejas, Don Ho and Spencer Blackmond


Fifth place

The Two Amigos, Kalamazoo RESA, teacher Kharen Shelton

Team members: Allison Otis and T’Yonne Caper


Portfolio Winners

First, Elivia Moss, St. Joseph High School, teacher Lauri Berry

Second, Thomas Chen, St. Joseph High School, teacher Lauri Berry

Third, Kaitlyn Yack, St. Joseph High School, teacher Lauri Berry

Fourth, Jenna Heckathorn, St. Joseph High School, teacher Lauri Berry

Fifth, Sidney Briney, St. Joseph High School, teacher Lauri Berry


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