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Warm experience at a chilly Chili Cook-Off in Pahrump

As the early morning sunshine began to peek over the Spring Mountains and spill into the Pahrump Valley on Saturday, March 24, Petrack Park came alive with activity and dozens began their preparations for the day.

Everywhere one looked there were people pulling out pots and pans and slow cookers, arranging ingredients and supplies, readying themselves and their booths for the competition to come.

It was the start of the 6th Annual International Chili Society Silver State Chili Cook-Off, where amateurs and experts from all around the country had the opportunity to vie for top prizes in a variety of categories, cash awards and of course, bragging rights as well.

The event included two days of chili-lovers’ madness with both the regional and the state cook-off, vendors in abundance, entertainment for the crowds, a car show for auto enthusiasts and a brand new feature this year, the Youth Chili Cook-Off.

Those entered in the professional ICS Cook-Off had a somewhat difficult time of it last weekend, battling against the winds which almost continuously swept through the park as they attempted to cook their chili right on site. However, all seemed to maintain a positive attitude, taking the challenge head-on and smiling while they did so.

The brisk conditions led to much laughter and joking about the “chilly chili cook-off” but judging by the number of attendees who made their way to the event, residents were not dissuaded by the weather, and they came out in force.

Ready to compete

Chuck Harber and Ken Hook of On The Road Chili traveled over from California to take part in the cook-off this year, with their sights set on winning the Chili Verde trophy. They were busily bustling around their booth and without pausing in their preparations while taking the time to speak with the press.

“You’re looking at a world champ right here!” Hook said by way of introduction, slapping his teammate Harber on the back. “He’s the big Kahuna!”

Harber smiled modestly, explaining that he had taken home the title of ICS World Champion in the Traditional Red category in 2016. He said he had been immersed in the world of chili for many years, and it was something he and his teammate loved to do.

“Each cook-off is different, there are different demands,” Harber said. “We spend several days getting ready for this particular event. We’ve got to go to the store, buy all the ingredients, pack everything and bring it out with us. We’ve got our lists, to check things off as we go along because you don’t want to forget anything!”

Harber and Hook were in the midst of crafting their Chili Verde and offered a few tips for those who have never competed in a chili cook-off before.

“The judges want to see some sort of knife skills, they want the meat to look something like this,” Hook detailed, displaying a pile of cubed meat neatly cut into tiny chunks. “They don’t want it to look like it’s been hacked to death.”

Harber added that ground meat, or grind as it’s called in the chili world, is acceptable but not necessarily to the competitor’s advantage. “You really have to make it taste good if you’re going to use grind,” Hook said while Harber remarked that he had not seen many who had ground meat in their chili declared winners.

Just a few booths down from On The Road Chili was Ron and Laurie Boisseranc’s booth, titled Rat Rod Chili. The couple was also engrossed in the simmering sauciness of their chili entries, with Laurie focused on Chili Verde while Ron took on Traditional Red.

Laurie, who was declared the ICS World Champion of Salsa only last year, said she was looking forward to the weekend and hoping to take home a prize as well. As for their advice on what a chili novice should know about making Chili Verde, the Boisserancs noted that pork tenderloin was their favored cut of meat and good quality green chilies are the only way to go.

Lynn and Harry Robinson of Harry’s Trash Can Chili and Lucky Lady were another two of the 60-plus ICS Cook-Off entrants and despite fighting the elements, they were in a jovial mood as well, greeting patrons and handing out their People’s Choice chili while cooking up their official entries.

“The weather could be a little bit better today, it’s been tough getting the burners going and our wind blocks in the right place but hey! It’s good chili-eating weather,” Lynn said with a chuckle.

Mike Austin with Bun Burner Chili Shack was at the competition with a whole host of his family members, describing the chili lifestyle as a family affair. He said he was a spicy man, much as the name of his team indicates. He was entered in the ICS Traditional Red category.

Austin said tri-tip roast was his meat of choice, “That’s the best and probably the most durable,” he proclaimed as he skinned and cleaned garlic for his chili entry. “And we love coming to this, Ron Frazier does a nice job.”

Non-pros take part

On the amateur side of the competition, contestants had an easier time of it, not being required to prepare their chili on site. Instead, they were able to cook up their tempting tastiness the night before and serve it right out of a crockpot to the crowd of eager chili tasters.

The Pahrump Valley Rotary Club was one of the 15 amateur teams taking part in the ICS Chili Cook-Off and member Dina Williamson-Erdag was manning the club’s booth.

“It’s a red meat chili, no beans,” Williamson-Erdag said, noting that she and member Cecilia Thomas had cooked the entry. “We’ve been in the chili cook-off twice before, this is our third time. We came in third one year and second another, so we are hoping for first this year. But there’s real competition, so we will see what happens!”

The Rotary Club’s booth was a doubly attractive for chili cook-off patrons as well, providing not just tastings of its chili but beer, Bloody Marys, Baileys and coffee and much more. The Rotary’s youth club, Interact, was out as well, selling lemonade made with fresh-squeezed lemons, all with the goal of raising cash to support the club’s many charitable activities.

‘Great showing’

ICS Silver State Chili Cook-Off organizer Ron Frazier, who picked up the chili cook-off after its original organizers gave it up, said he was very happy with how the event turned out.

“This year we doubled the number of vendors, ICS cooks, amateur cooks and more than doubled the car show entrants,” Frazier reported. “We also added a youth division for Sunday and hope to build on it for next year. We had a great showing for the event, between 2,500 and 3,500 people came out and 12,500 chili tastings were sold and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.”

While a sanctioned ICS event with a definite focus on the competition aspect, the event also serves as a fundraiser for the Nevada Outreach Training Organization’s No to Abuse program, located right here in Pahrump.

Frazier stated that approximately $13,000 was raised for No To Abuse throughout the two-day event.

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com. On Twitter: @pvtimes

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