The Nevis Lions completed a rare clean sweep in the 8th Annual Chili Challenge as both the top fundraising entrant at $1,990 and voted People's Favorite for "Whole Lot of Attitude" as the best-tasting chili.
Sponsored by the Park Rapids Enterprise and held at the American Legion, this year's challenge featured 21 entrants and raised about $10,400 with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the Hubbard County Food Shelf.
"We have a great time, all of us, participating in this every year. This is such a great event," said Chris Bolton of the winning Nevis Lions team. "We've never won both. This year, we tried a little harder and it paid off."
This is the third year participating for Bolton and the secret to the chili served by he and Michele Friday?
"It's all about the beans," Bolton said of the key ingredient from Hubbard Prairie Bean Co.
Local trapper and outdoorsman Gene Hagen knows his chili and he worked his way through nearly all 21 entries at this year's Chili Challenge. The only thing stopping him from completing the "unofficial" chili challenge was the cooks ran out of chili before he got to the final two entries.
This was Hagen's first time attending the Chili Challenge and as he pushed himself away from the table he left the American Legion impressed with local chili cooks.
"I didn't realize how many people cook good chili here," he said. "It was a most enjoyable experience. I got to see a lot of local people I haven't seen in years. Good food and good camaraderie, and it's for a good cause."
Hagen and the hundreds of other chili samplers found a little bit of everything, from chocolate flavored chili to seafood chili, and variations of the more traditional in between. Hagen called it a fantastic range of flavor from spicy to moderately hot down to mild.
"The chicken chili from the fire department was very pleasing. Because, not only are they saving lives, but they are saving me from anorexia," he added, referring to the Park Rapids Fire Department's "Bad Axe Chicken Chili."
Calvary Lutheran Church is known for its creativity at the event, most notably the lutefisk chili from a couple years ago. This year, they went sweet with the "Chocolate Chili With Kisses" entry.
Denny Ulmer brought a new sound to the room this year, playing the tuba to attract attention to the food shelf's "Tubalicious" chili.
Riverside United Methodist Church stepped up the creativity with its "Riverside Seafood Chili," complete with a crawdad garnish.
"I wanted to do something really different and unique, so we decided to do a seafood chili," said Pastor Chip Nielson of the chili that contained walleye, cod and shrimp. "There seems to be a little buzz around this."
Candy Parks of the Enterprise has coordinated the event from the start when about 8½ years ago reporter Jean Ruzicka interviewed Dave Long at the food shelf. Demand was on the increase and resources were on the decline.
"That is when we started talking about doing a fundraiser and, of course, for those that know Jean and myself the conversation turned to food," Parks said. "We wanted to do something different so we were thinking hotdish and quickly it turned to chili, and a chili competition for fun that included many from our community."
Co-workers jumped on board with Candy and Jean. The Chili Challenge emerged and snowballed from there into a community event.
"Every year, people come together, share food and camaraderie and raise funds for a good cause," Parks added.
Veteran chili challenger Theora Goodrich loves participating in the annual event. She was back this year representing Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations with her "Frostbite Fighter" chili. Goodrich and COLA won the event three years in a row as the top fundraising team. Now, she won't miss a challenge.
"After the first year we won, I visited the food shelf and was so impressed with how they run things," Goodrich said. "It brought tears to my eyes how 40 percent of our county is food insecure. That's kind of sad. It's mostly children and elders. This is for such a wonderful cause I have to do it every year."