Today, February 27, for National Chili Day, Carol Hancock, the CEO of the International Chili Society spoke with the Examiner about chili. “Chili means a lot of things to me that it doesn't mean to a lot of people.
For me, it means 2,000 people that follow the circuit, that cook chili, that get on our website and that raise money for charity. They treat each other like family. Chili as a dish is it's wonderful individual self, but just the whole concept for us has been a forty-eight year situation.
The 48th Annual World Championship Chili Cookoff will be this fall and it's been a perpetual thing with all the individual people who have helped put the qualifying events together”. She summed it up by saying “It's a large family of people that come together for camaraderie, friendship and to raise money for charity”.
Many people from across the country now travel to many parts of the United States to compete in the many chili cookoffs across the country. During the day, they are competitors, but in the evening they like to visit with their friends, have a glass of beer and spend time with people who have become like extended families to each other.
As head of the International Chili Society, Carol certainly knows what it takes to make good chili. In 1985 she took the top prize in the World Championship Chili Cookoff with her “Shotgun Willie Chili”. A big issue made some changes to the cookoffs two years ago.
"We've made so many additions to the organization in our categories. We have more cookoffs than we've had in the past. We made our big change two years ago when we included 'homestyle'; the controversial issue of beans or no beans and the competitive chili not having beans. The homestyle category allows beans. I look forward to more 'homestyle members' joining us this year. The idea of an organization that cooks chili, judges it and gives prizes for the best chili while raising money for charity is something more people need to know about and get involved with,” Carol said.
Indeed, the International Chili Society has not only provided a fun thing to do for competitive chili cooks, but has raised over $91 million dollars for charities. “We've had some chili cookoffs that have raised as much as $65,000 in an afternoon”, Carol said. “The Washington DC cookoff raises over a million dollars!”, she pointed out.
Carol related the story of how the International Chili Championships began. Carroll Shelby was known to most people as an automotive designer and performance car developer for cars such as the Shelby Cobra, Dodge Shelby Daytona, Dodge Viper and the Ford Mustang Shelby GT series. In 1967, he got together a group of friends close to his ranch in Terlingua, Texas for the first ever chili competition. Shelby's friends at that first cookoff included people like Francis X. Tolbert, author of the seminal book about chili “A Bowl of Red” and Wick Fowler, a Texas newspaperman and creator of the “Two Alarm Chili”.
The next year Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter was brought in as a judge. The year after that, C.V. Wood, the chief developer of Disneyland and the man who later brought the London Bridge to Havasu City, threw his pot of chili into the competition.
Carol said, “They did it as fun for years and then it occurred to him that with the number of people that were interested in just that one cookoff held on an annual basis in the middle of nowhere, he thought that if they handed out samples or charged admission that they could raise money for charities that needed things”. She continued, “You know it turned out to be a really good idea!”
For years now, chili fans have flocked to the chili cookoffs to taste what might become a championship pot of chili. Many successful cooks got their start by going to several cookoffs as a visitor, tasting lots of different bowls of chili and then deciding that they could make a better chili. Of course, people have been debating for years what is “real chili”.
In Texas, they lay claim to being where real chili was born, however who created it as well as who enjoyed it in the early 1800's is part of the lore of chili. One story has the outlaw Jesse James and his gang riding into Fort Worth for bowls of chili before going on some of their bank jobs. Later on in the 1930's, San Antonio became known for their chili vendors and soon chili parlors had sprung up all over the country. By the mid 1960's, the idea of the chili cookoff was born.
These days, Carol Hancock oversees the International Chili Society. She is passionate about it's role in providing charities such as the National Kidney Foundation, Make a Wish Foundation, the Special Olympics, St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital and Meals on Wheels with substantial donations that can make a big difference in people's lives. “Did you know that there are people who travel around the country and cook competition chili for charity?” Carol asked, pointing out that “over the forty-eight years they have raised a large amount of money.
Also, we give in the three categories of competition, red, green and homestyle, the prize money can reach up to $55,000. At the Championships, we may have upwards of 400 cooks”. On the International Chili Society's website, calendar dates for more than 150 of the 2014 cookoffs across the country can be found.
The prizes are all supplied as sponsorship and host dollars since the International Chili Society is a not-for-profit organization. On a day where we pay tribute to the “bowl of red”, it is nice to know that not only are the pots of chili being cooked for great taste, but also to provide contributions for worthwhile organizations. That's a delicious way to help people!