At right, Julie and Bob Dethloff of Green Lake serve up their “Grateful Red” team chili to a long line of hungry folks. The Dethloffs’ first-place trophy from the 2014 State Chili Cookoff is prominently on display. Maic D’Agostino photo
by Joe Schulz
For more than 35 years the Wisconsin State Chili CookoffChampionship has brought foodies from around the country to Green Lake.
The Green Lake Rotary has sponsored the event since the mid ’80s, but this year Bill Munsey, who has served as chair of the cook-off’s planning committee for the bulk of that time, has retired.
A relatively new member of the Rotary Club stepped in to assist in continuing the event.
Robin Wallenfang responded, with hesitation, knowing all that is required for the event to be successful.
“It takes everybody in the club to make this event happen,” Wallenfang said. “Bill Munsey helped build this event into what it is today, and we just want to keep it in Green Lake.”
She’s been involved in both sides of the event, having cooked and judged in past years.
After months of planning and preparation, the cookoffis set for Saturday, Sept. 7 in Deacon Mills Park.
Competing cooks will begin prepping their food at 10:30 a.m., with live music starting in the park at noon.
Music will be performed by DJ Gregg Owens and the band Cannonball. Admission is free, but if folks want to taste test chili, they can buy four 2-oz cups for $1.
As patrons sample chili, they can chat with festively dressed cooks. Chefs wear a themed-attire of their choosing and the cook with the best outfit will win the Showmanship Award, which is a $100 cash prize along with a trophy.
When Wallenfang cooked in the event, her team’s theme was Renaissance.
“It was a lot of fun dressing up to play the part and participate with friends & family,” she said. “We even practiced our Renaissance lingo … I encourage all who enjoy making a big pot of chili to participate as contestants.”
Folks sampling chili are asked to note whose chili was their favorite, so they can cast a vote for the People’s Choice Award.
Chili won’t be the only treat available, as many displays also feature chips and salsa.
Rotary will sell T-shirts, aprons, soda, water and beer at the event. It also is selling raffle tickets at $5 per ticket or three tickets for $10.
Marty Valasek, left, of Green Lake sells drinks on behalf of the Green Lake Rotary club to help chili-devourers quench the heat. Maic D’Agostino photo
Winners will be drawn on the day of the event and tickets may be purchased from rotary members or at the Horicon Bank in Green lake.
Raffle prizes include a queen-size quilt handmade by Cathy Roeder, a 16-by-20-inch oil painting by Robin Wallenfang and more.
Those competing in the event cannot begin prepping food until after a 10 a.m. cooks meeting, and all the chili is prepared on site the day of the event.
In order to compete in the event, chefs must first register with the International Chili Society (ICS). Once registered, chefs are eligible to compete in any ICS sanctioned event.
Applications for the Wisconsin State Chili Cookoffare available on its website, but the event is capped at 40 contestants.
Judges for the competition each year include an array of folks within the community, local and state politicians, as well as a celebrity judge.
This year’s prominent taster is comedian Tim Cavanagh, who has judged the cookoffbefore. Cavanagh is also performing Friday, Sept. 6 and Saturday, Sept. 7 at 7:30 p.m. at the Thrasher Opera House.
Judges evaluate each chili based on its look, texture and taste. If judges find beans or noodles in the chili being scored, it will be automatically disqualified.
“I have enjoyed the pleasure of being a judge for many, many years,” Wallenfang said. “Judging, to me, is the greatest job on the planet, if you like chili.”
Prizes include a $750 cash prize and trophy for first place, a $175 cash prize and trophy for second place, and a $125 cash prize and trophy for third place and a trophy for most spicy dish.
Each year, the first-place chef moves on to compete in the ICS World Championship.
According to Wallenfang, this year’s winner will compete in next year’s world championship, because ICS moved the world championship from November to September, after the Wisconsin State Chili Cookoffwas already slotted for that month.
Because Green Lake hosts so many summer events, Rotary was unable to move this year’s competition to allow chefs to compete in the 2019 world championship.
The Rotary will work to get input from the contestants about whether to move next year’s cookoffto either August or October.
After awards are dished out, pints of chili are auctioned out to event attendees. In previous years, some pints have sold for more than $100.
Money raised from the event goes to the Green Lake Rotary. Wallenfang added Rotary puts about $12,000 back into the community each year.
She added new members are always welcome.
“If you are considering becoming a member, please join us for breakfast on Wednesday mornings at 7 a.m. at Goose Blind [Grill and Bar],” Wallenfang said.
Wallenfang believes the cookoffserves as a fun family event that helps to extend the tourist season into fall.
For more information about the event, or to download a vendor application visit www.wisconsinstatechampionshipchilicook-off.com.