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Food & Drink

Competition to get 'heated' at Wheaton's 10th annual Chili Cook-off

Maricela Perez of El Zarape restaurant serves chili during the 2017 Downtown Wheaton Association Chili Cook-off.
Maricela Perez of El Zarape restaurant serves chili during the 2017 Downtown Wheaton Association Chili Cook-off.

WHEATON – Ed Carella isn’t ready to give up his crown of glory just yet, nor is he going down without a fight.

Last year, Carella and his team over at Muldoon’s, an Irish pub in Wheaton, swept the judges away at the Chili Cook-off with their winning recipe: smoked chipotle and white chocolate chili.

The perfect combination made for a “sweet and savory” statement and guaranteed them a sure victory, said Carella, who recently was named Muldoon’s CEO. With the competition just days away, he advises other contestants to stay on their toes and watch out because Muldoon’s is bringing its “A” game.

While he’s tight-lipped about this year’s entry, he offered a hint about a special ingredient that is bound to make his chili stand out: “We are going to be making it with our award-winning beer that we brew in Plainfield.”

The 10th annual Chili Cook-off hosted by the Downtown Wheaton Association takes place Nov. 3 with Muldoon’s listed as one of 15 restaurants vying for the critics’ choice and people’s choice awards. With critics’ choice, contestants will be judged by Brett Johnson, owner of Wheaton Meat Co.; Michael Maddox, culinary arts instructor at College of DuPage; and Mary Beth Versaci, editor at Suburban Life Media.

As for the people’s choice award, the public will have the chance to cast votes for their favorite chili. This award is the most coveted, the “one restaurants compete for," said Paula Barrington, executive director of the Downtown Wheaton Association and event organizer.

“You get to do something different once a year,” Carrella said of why he loves participating in the cook-off. “You get to showcase your creative talent.”

For Johnson, he advises all competitors to pay attention to flavor and consistency. As a former challenger and second-year judge, he shared the key to a good batch is quality ingredients. In fact, Johnson revealed the stars of his chili included the trifecta: ground beef, ground pork and skirt steak.

“If you go super crazy with the chili recipe and start using weird stuff that’s not typically in chilis, then that’s not – in my opinion – it’s kind of not a chili any longer,” he said. “There’s probably some sort of line to be drawn. You can make it interesting, but at the same time, you can stick to some sort of fundamentals.”

Aside from the cook-off, Barrington noted attendees also can join in on a scavenger hunt, a “fun” and “easy” game where guests can win prizes and learn more about the downtown’s shops.

The Chili Cook-off runs from 1 to 5 p.m., and winners will be announced at 5:30, followed by an after-party at Muldoon’s, 133 W. Front St. Tickets for the event can be purchased in advance through the association’s website, downtownwheaton.com, or at its office, 108 E. Wesley St., Wheaton. Tickets also will be sold on the day of the event at several locations in town, including Martin Memorial Plaza at Front and Main Streets, the Wheaton Grand Theater, 119 N. Hale St., and Gino’s East, 315 W. Front St.

A full list of the scavenger hunt’s participating stores and the cook-off’s contenders is available at downtownwheaton.com.

For anyone who might be on the fence about going to the Chili Cook-off, Carella, Johnson and Barrington said the decision should be a no-brainer, and there’s something for everyone at the family friendly event.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Johnson said of getting involved. “I mean, who’s going to turn down eating a bunch of chili?”

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If you go

WHAT: Chili Cook-off

WHEN: 1 to 5 p.m. Nov. 3

WHERE: downtown Wheaton

COST: $22 for adults, $10 for children 12 and younger

INFO: downtownwheaton.com

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