The Olympia Farmers Market added a touch of spice Sunday to an already warm day in the form of a statewide championship chili cookoff.
The longtime event, with proceeds from ticket sales benefiting the market’s food drive, was organized by the Puget Pod of the Chili Appreciation Society International, one of several chapters that make up the CASI nonprofit, said Ken Peach, 83, of Spanaway, also known as the “great pepper” of the local chapter.
About 15 cooks were in competition Sunday from throughout the state, whipping up two kinds of chili – one with meat but no beans called Texas Red, and an anything-goes “homestyle” chili.
Visitors paid $5 for an all-you-can-taste cup and then mingled around about 10 tents set up on a gravel lot near the farmers market. Judges for the contest included Port of Olympia Commissioner Bill McGregor and Jerry Farmer of 94.5 FM Roxy radio.
“We raise money, promote chili and have fun,” said Peach about the organization and the event.
As to what makes a good chili, that was a semi-guarded secret among the cooks Sunday.
As Peach said, “You can cook my recipe, but you can’t cook my chili,” although he did concede that “no spice should overpower another.”
He also said there’s no such thing as bad chili.
“All chili is good, some just not as good as others,” said Peach, who grew up in the Dallas area.
Other cooks too didn’t divulge much about their recipes, including grandparents Larry and Barbara Gholston of Maple Valley and their granddaughter Maddie, 12. All three were busy making both kinds of chili.
Asked what the secret to her chili was, Maddie shot back, “It’s a secret.” She later conceded that it comes down to “good ingredients.”
Larry Gholston, similar to Peach’s views on chili, said the “spices should blend and mellow and talk to each other.”
The head judge for the competition was Lynne Brokaw of Seattle, although she wasn’t tasting Sunday but was handling the details, including supervising the other judges to make sure forms were being completed correctly. Brokaw, too, was cooking.
Once again it comes down to the right combination of peppers and chili blends, she said.
“That and luck,” Brokaw said.
The chili cookoff typically raises about $300 for the farmers market food drive, general manager Charlie Haney said.