Monday, January 30, 2017

2017 Christian Church chili cook-off draws a big crowd

Cynthia Campbell collects first prize;
second place winner Will Schein is
seated in the background.
By Austyn Gaffney
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

“It’s out of this world.” This was the first impression Midway Christian Church’s Community Chili Cook-off inspired from Pat Connors, a resident of Lexington. Connors said she enjoys coming to the church’s free, monthly, community dinners. She’s attended the dinners a handful of times, and said Monday night’s Chili Cook-off crowd was the biggest she’s ever seen.

She’s not alone. DeLise Graham-Hill, a 10-year resident of Midway, has been to these monthly dinners for at least the last seven years. “My favorite is the sweet potato” chili, she said. “It’s a bit spicy, and you can add chives on top.” Although the recipe was popular among many foodies at the dinner, it didn’t take the top spot in a tight race between 19 crock-pot chilis.

Three Midway residents shouldered the task of trying all 19 concoctions. Mayor Grayson Vandegrift, City Council Member Bruce Southworth, and Midway University Athletic Director Rusty Kennedy, judged the cook-off through a blind taste test. They tried each recipe in a small Dixie cup with a number, instead of a name, attached to the chili.

Chris Michel refills one of the pots.
Loud applause erupted when Cynthia Campbell won first place, and college student Will Schein received second. But it was Chris Michel’s third place that caused the biggest uproar. Wife Ouita Michel, a nationally known chef who manages the dinners, came out of the kitchen to tell the crowd, “Chris has spent years making gourmet chili recipes and never wins this thing. He went online and got the recipe for Hormel chili and made a Hormel chili recipe for tonight!”

Chef Ouita Michel explains how husband
Chris Michel won third place as her dad,
Ray Papka, watches Jim Nance clean up.
Ouita Michel also had a rabbit chili for the cook-off. Dinner guest Jim Nance of Midway affectionately called her recipe “bunny soup.” Michel described her stew of rabbit, beans and poblano peppers as having almost no fat. Her daughter, Willa Michel, followed in her parents’ footsteps with a chili of ground beef. Nance gave it the seal of approval, finishing his bowl and describing the chili as “a little bit sweeter than most.”

Midway Christian Church has offered free community dinners the last Monday of every month since August 2011. The next will be Monday, Feb. 27 at 6:30 p.m.

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