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Lakefield not so 'chili'


LAKEFIELD -- It'll be a hot time in the old town of Lakefield for chili cooks and chili tasters involved in the upcoming sixth annual Kids Against Hunger Chili Cook-Off.

"People should come because Kids Against Hunger is a marvelous, marvelous cause, and what is better than to be part of a marvelous cause and have a really good time doing it?" said Marless Cuperus, fundraising coordinator for Jackson County KAH.

Cuperus and Kids Against Hunger would like to get eight more chili cooks involved in the contest, which pits masters of the chili-art against each other in three categories -- robust family chili, 911 ambulance hot chili and exotic chili.

Exotic chilis should have at least one unusual ingredient. Past entries have showcased elk, bear, goose, emu, buffalo, chicken or vegetables, but last year's winner, Lexi Dashem, took the prize for her pepperoni chili.

Dashem will return to defend her title this year, Cuperus said, along with other previous winners Amber Liepold and her mother Myleen Swanson, who won in the family category last year. Liepold and Swanson will take on Dashem in the exotic category this year.

Chili chefs may choose to compete in multiple categories, provided they bring extra servers to dish up chili for guests at each station.

Visitors at the chili challenge can choose to sample chilis and help select the people's choice award winners, or they can try some hearty vegetable beef soup.

Three chilis will win a people's choice award, and judges will also select the top chilis from each category in a blind taste test, based on color, texture, aroma and taste.

Contest winners in each category will receive an apron for the people's choice part of the contest, and the winner of the blind judging will also receive an apron. People who win second and third place in each category and in the people's choice selection will receive certificates -- and bragging rights.

Awards for creative presentation are also given to people who present their chilis in a fun way. Past entrants have worn cowboy or fireman costumes and brought 8-foot-tall stuffed bears and chuck wagons to the contest.

"It's not just a fundraiser. It's not just a chili cook-off -- it has become a full-blown event," Cuperus said.

The contest raised $2,800 for Jackson County KAH last year, with more than 250 people attending. It's one of only two fundraisers for the group; the second is the Summerfest 5K Walk/Run. KAH hopes to raise $13,000 this year in order to pay for bagging 100,000 meals for the hungry in America and abroad.

"We know these meals don't end up on the black market. We know that these meals are going directly to certified charities that are working with children," Cuperus said.

The chili contest fundraising is already off to a positive start, with International Transmission Company Midwest sponsoring the event with a $500 donation.

The cook-off will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 20 at Immanuel Activities Center, Lakefield.

Anyone interesting in trying their mettle against other experienced chili chefs should call Cuperus at (507) 662-5254 by Thursday.