Snow and ice, miles of frozen roadway? No problem for the dedicated chili cooks and local celebrity mechanical bull riders who’ve turned out for the 10th annual Gingerbread House Chili Cook-off and Barn Dance this weekend at the Ellis County Expo Center.
The popular event is a main fundraiser benefitting the Gingerbread House, which serves sexually and or physically abused children of Ellis County.
As Gingerbread House’s executive director John Wyckoff said Friday, “The cold weather we’ve been having all week will only enhance the aroma of the chili and the warmth of tasting the chili throughout the weekend. There is just something about cold weather and good chili.”
And indeed there was and is (the event concludes today with the event’s third round of chili competition at noon). A steady stream of attendees trekked in Friday evening, with even more people on hand at the expo Saturday for the second round of CASI-accredited chili competition, as well as novice, beans and junior divisions.
Not that the trip into the expo wasn’t without a little excitement for some: KBEC radio personality Laurie McPike Moseley joked she was singing the Carrie Underwood song, “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” as she drove in for Saturday morning’s remote broadcast with fellow KBEC staffer Gary Bishop.
Chili Con Carnies
Two of the more distant chili cooks to travel in were Steve Edmonson of McDade, Texas, and Mark Ivicic of Round Rock, Texas. Both are members of the chili team, Chili Con Carnies.
“I left about 6 and got here at 9; it was good driving with only a little problem on the service roads,” Edmonson said. “We do this all the time, traveling to chili cook-offs. We do it for the charities.”
Chili Con Carnies will likely participate in about 20 cook-offs this year, he said, noting that Ivicic is the newest member of the team, with the Gingerbread House event his second to participate in.
“I’m just getting started, but I plan to continue,” Ivicic said, with Edmonson adding, “He’s hooked. Once you do one, you’re hooked.”
Chili Con Carnies has eight couples participating under the team name, seven of which represent cousins, with Ivicic a close family friend.
Edmonson explained that the team formed in tribute to an uncle who used to participate in chili cook-offs under the name of “Bull’s Eye Chili.”
With the passing of that uncle and Edmonson’s father, the cousins all got together and decided they would form a team as a tribute to the two men.
Edmonson and Ivicic had a banner of family photographs displayed for the first time at the Gingerbread House event, with a full-scale show production slated to debut at the upcoming state chili competition.
“(Each cousin) has been competing under our individual names. Now, we’re going as a team under the name of Chili Con Carnies,” Edmonson said. “We’re getting sponsors and we’re trying to go big time. And everything we get or make, we turn around and give to charity. It’s the ‘Edmonson Edge.’ ”
Twenty-one chili cooks made it to the expo to compete Friday evening, with preliminary numbers Saturday morning showing 38 CASI cooks, 14 novice, six juniors and eight beans competitors signed in – as more were still coming in the door.
Understandably the numbers will be down from other years for the competition, but head chili pepper Kelly Brignon said she was pleased, all in all, noting cooks arriving from Hurst and Alvarado, among other places.
“I could be a lot happier – but I’m happy,” she said. “I’m just really appreciative of everyone who has come out in the last two days and I’m expecting a really good turnout tomorrow (Sunday).”
The Gingerbread House Chili Cook-off and Barn Dance is a family event – with the junior chili division offering an opportunity for young cooks to get their start in Chili Appreciation Society International competition.
Jacob Bunch of Waxahachie was cooking for the Gingerbread House. This is his second year to compete, with the Finley Seventh Grade Center student hoping to better his ninth place finish last year.
“I’m looking to improve,” he said with a smile, saying he’d “tweaked” his recipe some.
The son of Gingerbread House staff member and forensic interviewer Teresa Evans, Bunch said he enjoys volunteering at the event as well as cooking.
Zoe Brignon, the daughter of Kelly Brignon, shook her head “no” when asked if she cared to share any of her chili secrets.
“I have competitive children,” Kelly said, laughing. “What can I say?”
The 11-year-old did offer up several reasons to participate. “You can make lots of new friends – and it’s fun,” she said.
“We do it as a family,” Kelly said. “We all cook.”
“There’s all ages and there’s entertainment,” Zoe said.
From judge to cook
Ronnie Raburn of Midlothian said he missed the first Gingerbread House cook-off but has made every one since, the first four as a judge before taking the plunge into cooking.
“My very first year, I finished 11th, and I said, ‘I may just do this from now on,’ ” Raburn said, saying he competes in several chili cook-offs each year in what is now a serious hobby.
“I’ll go to ones in San Angelo and West Texas – and here. I think it’s a lot of fun and it helps me improve my cooking skills, not that I need a lot of help there,” he said. “I love the camaraderie. I see friends here that I’ve known four to five years now. They’re always here and they’re fun to see.”
On Saturday, Raburn was cooking in the novice division, having yet to earn so many points he’s restricted to the CASI level. He planned on cooking again Sunday, when he would cook CASI.
“I enjoy cooking,” he said.
A movie-themed group
Camaraderie and good times are key words for chili team Hachie Nick-Nicks, a take-off of a Jack Nicholson scene in the movie, “Easy Rider.”
Team members on hand Saturday included Gary and Judy Grant, Kerry Campbell and Brad Braden, each cooking up a pot of chili for the CASI competition.
Gary’s recipe was based on former Dallas County Sheriff Smoot Schmid’s chili.
“It’s so good, people were believed to have broken the law to get into jail to get it,” he said, saying he thinks the recipe – which can be found on the Internet – stems back to the Depression.
Asked if they had any chili secrets to share, Campbell said with a smile: “We don’t tell all our secrets.”
There are seven couples – all Waxahachie residents – who participate in Hachie Nick-Nicks.
“We’re all long-time friends who like to get together and do things, including chili cook-offs,” Gary said.
The Gingerbread House Chili Cook-off continues Sunday, with one last round of CASI competition. Turn-in time is noon, with judging to follow and everyone in home in time for the Super Bowl, organizers said.
Contact JoAnn at firstname.lastname@example.org or 469-517-1452.