DOWNERS GROVE – The whole kitchen sink, a cheesehead and a traditionalist: the three top finishers in last year's Chilympics touting three distinct cooking styles. That's the joy in the home style category in chili cook-offs, anything goes.
Last year's winner, Debra Hunt, of the more-is-merrier strategy, used baked beans, chili beans, hamburger, turkey, rice, noodles, sausage, vegetables and spices.
"I drag the whole kitchen," the Markham resident said, describing the end result as a "Bobby Flay taste."
"It's sweet and spicy," she said. "That southwest taste, that's what I try to achieve."
The 2013 runner up, Mike Goodman of Wisconsin, competes nationally and goes by the moniker Cheesehead Chili. He made "Chunky Chicken and Chopped Chorizo served with Cheddar Cheese and Chives," which also earned the People's Choice award.
The Packers fan joked that he usually cooks with Bear meat.
"When I was a child, my dad took me up to Wisconsin," he said, in jest. "We'd shoot black bear, grind it up and make chili out of it. We don't have to do that anymore. We invite bears up to Lambeau Field, they get to the 30 yard line and they roll over."
Hunt and Goodman were followed by first time chili cook-off contestant John Pastore of Bolingbrook.
"I tried to stick to the basics," he said. "I went a little bit on the sweeter side. I think a lot of people go for hot, and a lot of time they all taste the same. I tried to go sweet and threw some celery in there to make it crunchy. It sounds like a weird combination for chili but it worked enough to get me there so it was fun."
The Downers Grove Park District is now accepting applications for the second annual Chilympics, hosted Sept. 27 at Fishel Park.
Like last year, the winner receives a $500 cash prize and an entry to the International Chili Society National Finals. Prizes will also be awarded to the runners-up and the people's choice award winner.
Hunt said she's already signed up to defend her title from the inaugural Chilympics last year. Pastore and Goodman said they're not sure yet if they'll be back.
In addition to homestyle, Goodman also competes in the red chili and chili verde categories at national contests. Red and green come with strict ingredient boundaries, like no beans. He travels to between 25 and 30 contests a year, he said.
"It's a great hobby," he said. "We're getting some young people involved now, and it's just they enjoy it so much. They get hooked on it, too. Everybody makes the best chili anyone ever ate. All you gotta do is sign up, come on out and see what you got."
The Chilympics takes place from noon to 4 p.m. Sept. 27 at Fishel Park in downtown Downers Grove.
The contest is open to all ages and costs $45 to enter, which includes a $20 membership fee to ICS, a $25 Park District registration fee and a commemorative t-shirt. Competitors must also cook enough chili for the judges and the People’s Choice tasting.
Full information, and competitor application forms, is available at www.dgparks.org. The deadline to enter is Sept. 12.
Noon - Festival kick off with music from the DJ. Competitors begin cooking1 p.m. - Culinary demonstrations on the stage2 p.m. - People's choice tasting begins (while supplies last)2 p.m. - Live music from country band Hillbilly Rockstarz3:30 p.m. - Winners announced