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A ‘super bowl’ of chili

Bernice Camery and Norma Janssen (far right) sample the taco chili at Sanford’s Dos Senoras booth, run by Stacy Dotzler and Cindy Kostuch (far left) at the opening ceremony for 2015 Winterfest. Jesse Trelstad/Daily Globe 1 / 4
A large crowd fills a conference room at the Worthington event center for the 2015 Winterfest Chili Cook-Off. Jesse Trelstad/Daily Globe 2 / 4
Superbowl of Chili swept the awards at the chili cook-off this year with John Shea’s recipe. Taking home first place in people’s choice, judges choice, and best booth. Superbowl of Chili stands with the traveling Winterfest People's choice trophy (from left) Heather Balk, Jill Lavert, Kelsey Wallace and John Shea. Jesse Trelstad/Daily Globe3 / 4
Shown is a decorated Pepto bottle at one of the contestants tables. Jesse Trelstad/Daily Globe4 / 4

WORTHINGTON — Although the weather outside has been a bit uncooperative for a few Winterfest events, the temperature was just right to make people hungry for chili. If it wasn’t the cold, the array of aromas at Worthington Events Center Friday evening prompted many attendees to leave the chili-cook off opener with full bellies.

This year’s competition was filled with newcomers and a few familiar faces. In her sophomore effort at the cook-off, Margy Nelson, thought she’d found a secret weapon to lead her to the winner’s circle: her sister, Mary Rydeen. The St. Paul native said last year she was one vote shy of winning the favorite taste competition. She attributed the loss to being an out-of-towner and her black bean chili’s lack of beef not setting well with the locals. With a different recipe and Rydeen in tow, the “M&M’s” felt their chances were “strong” to take the top spot.

Beef was the key ingredient for another competitor, Elaine Martin-Watson. Martin-Watson, a.k.a. the “West Texas Red Hot Chili Queen,” lived up to her name with her concoction. It is said everything is bigger in Texas, and the same can be said for the bold, spicy flavor. Staying true to her Texan roots, Martin-Watson had no beans in her chili and lots of beef. She added her secret ingredient was “a whole lot of love” and “passion for cooking.”

While this year was her first time in the Worthington contest, Martin-Watson is no stranger to chili competitions.

She has won four years in a row in Marshall, and her experience made her a fierce competitor this year.

Also a freshman to the contest, John Shea made his chili debut with his “Super Bowl of Chili” booth and concoction. Shea said his family didn’t have a lot of recipes, but the chili has been in the family for a while. Originally from Iowa, Shea’s not-so-secret ingredient in the chili is bacon. And while leftovers might be on the menu for Sunday’s big game, Shea said he has no intention of making any more chili “for at least a month” following the contest.

Best friends and chili tasters Norma Janssen and Bernice Camery enjoyed sampling from the field of 13 competitors. Janssen said she looked for a chili that was “not real spicy.” The pair intend to return next year for their second go-around, noting it was “a fun place to come.”

The judges made their top three selections. First State Bank of Worthington captured third place with a sweet, non-spicy chili. The lack of heat may have been a unique choice in a field of competition where several entries packed a punch.

America Voss and Kristie Hoffman with Profile Sanford entered the chili contest to demonstrate a healthy alternative to the classic dish. The effort led to a second place finish in the judge’s contest.

By a narrow margin, Shea’s chili edged out the rest and landed him on top of the heap. The first place win included two $100 gift cards to Hy-Vee and Fareway. Before he had a chance to let the win sink in, it was announced that Shea had also captured the People’s Choice Award as well, once again just edging out the others. The People’s Choice Award is a traveling trophy and sombrero.

In a new category this year, the people also got to vote for their favorite booth. Nelson and Rydeen decorated their booth with the candy treats that share their team moniker. The West Texan Red Hot Chili Queen’s booth was covered in red chilis, even including a string of chili lights and crowns adorned the heads of Martin-Watson and her supporters Cameron Johnson and Aviana Watson.

Shea made a clean sweep of the contest, capturing the booth award along with his chili nods. In keeping with a Super Bowl theme, Shea was dressed as a referee with an inflatable goal post, Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots napkins and a slightly deflated inflatable football (though perhaps that was unintentional). Shea gave the credit for the booth theme to his fiancee, Kelsey Wallace, who accepted the award.

All in all, Shea and Wallace were ecstatic about the wins. Shea said he is ready to come back next year and defend his title. The only downside? He had intended to use a different recipe next time, but when both the judges and the people name you the champ, you stick with what worked.

Robin Baumgarn

Robin Baumgarn is a new reporter for the Daily Globe covering the Education and Northwest Iowa beats. Prior to coming to the Globe, she worked for the Ocheyedan Press-Melvin News, a weekly Iowa paper for three years. She is a 2012 graduate of Iowa Lakes Community College and lives in Northwest Iowa with her husband Ryan and three pets, Fidget, Missy and Samwise.

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