Stirring up champion flavors


Bill Munsey, chair of the planning committee for the Green Lake Chili Cook-off, tastes some of his own concoctions. Ariana Hones photo

by Ariana Hones

Ostrich. Venison. Buffalo. Beef.

All related through their home in the chili pot.

The inclusion of one of these meats spiced to perfection may even be the reason the blue ribbon is taken home at this year’s chili cook-off.

Over gallons of traditional red chili, Green Lake will host the Wisconsin State Chili Championship Saturday, Sept. 8. Prep time begins at 10:30 a.m. at Deacon Mills Park.

Sanctioned by the International Chili Society and supported by local organizations, this cook-off has been happening in Green Lake since the late 1970s.

The original draw to have it in Green Lake came from the chamber of commerce’s desire to bring people into the area post-Labor Day.

It worked.

Green Lake Chili Cook-off 2017 found over a thousand people flocking to the lakeside with an appetite for competition. Or at least a hunger for some tasty samples.

Since the mid-’80s the Green Lake Rotary has organized the event, and for the past 25 years, Bill Munsey has served as chairperson.

“It has been a long time. I had dark hair — let’s put it that way,” joked Munsey when asked how long he had been involved.

Like Munsey, many of the competitors return year after year to partake in this community event.

Averaging about 30 cooks total, each year the cook-off invites teams of up to four people to Green Lake to battle it out over the best pot of red chili.

“There are many types of chili: green, homestyle, chili con carne, but we compete with red chili” Munsey said.

This traditional form of chili combines meats, red chili peppers and various other spices. No beans or noodles are allowed.

Cooks are required to prepare everything on site and beyond canned goods, nothing can be precooked.

Competitors also are required to bring all of their own cooking supplies and stove top, as well as be members of the International Chili Society.

After four hours of chefs concocting their recipes to perfection, local Cub Scouts pick up the chili at 3 p.m. and bring them to the 13 local judges, plus a celebrity judge.

This year, comedic musician Heywood Banks, who is playing at the Thrasher Opera House the night before, will bring his celebrity status to the table.

Seven judges will taste half of the submissions, while the other seven will taste the rest.

From each table, five chilis plus any ties will move on to the final table where all 14 judges will sample the chilis to find the winner.

Community members also will be able to participate in the tasting, as every competitor is required to submit extra chili for the “People Choice Award.”

Community members can purchase four, 2-ounce sample cups for $1 and nominate their favorites for the award.

The People’s Choice award winner will receive up to $500 dollars of total funds raised.

Concessions also will be provided by the Green Lake Rotary, so those not in the mood for chili can feast on hamburgers, hotdogs, brats, beverages and more.

Those looking to take home some of the winning chili will have the chance to participate in the auctioning of quarts from the top-10 finishers.

Entrance into the cook-off is $50, with the money going to the Green Lake Rotary Club.

The champion’s prize?

A trophy, $750 and a chance to compete at the world championship, which will occur in St. Louis Friday, Sept. 28 to Sunday, Sept. 30.

That prize?

$25,000.

With the opportunity of winning the state championship, participate in an event for the entire community and be entertained by live music and auction, it is easy to be thankful for the foresight of the Green Lake Chamber of Commerce all those years ago as it desired to find an event that would connect people.

As Munsey reflects on past memories of chili making as he nears his final time as chairperson, he similarity settles on moments that drew community members together.

“We had a musician one year that left the crowd in a frenzy. It was such riot,” he said. “Another year, a man proposed on stage.”

Maybe it is something in the chili.

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