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Chili competition kicks off with some super bowls

Cookoff stirs up some creativity, fun amongst local fire agencies

CHANNAHON — Firefighters from three area departments came together Friday night for a competition that highlighted their cooking skills.

Channahon Fire Protection District hosted its first-ever chili cookoff, inviting Minooka and Troy fire protection districts to come out and take a shot at a shiny trophy for "Best Tasting" chili, as well as bragging rights.

The cookoff was organized by Cindy Wilson, who serves as fire and life safety education coordinator for both Minooka and Channahon fire protection districts. She said the idea came from an interest in bringing area residents into the fire station.

"We were looking to do (an event) event in the community," she said, adding that the camaraderie between the three departments made the chili cookoff a natural kind of event to hold.

As residents trickled into the station bay, the departments each had their own table, with chili toppings at the ready and slow cookers full of chili. Five teams in all participated, two from Channahon, one from Minooka and two from Troy.

The panel of judges took their place at a table holding the trophy. They included Minooka resident Vince Portlock, Channahon Police Chief Jeff Wold and Minooka Fire Protection District Chief Al Yancey. After they received their bowls of chili, attendees were able to try their own.

Channahon resident Michelle Blazekovich could be found with her children and grandson, trying the different flavors. She said she heard about the event through a school note and decided to bring the family.

"It sounded like a good time. I love chili, and I haven't seen the movie 'Brave' yet," she said, noting the after-cookoff entertainment for the night — a screening of the new Disney movie.

Her 9-year-old daughter, Cassie, said she was enjoying the event.

"This is really good chili," she said.

As the judges wrote down notes and talked amongst themselves, firefighters weighed in their chilis. Channahon firefighter Rich Arnold said he thought his was a strong contender for first place.

"I think I've got a good chance," he said, adding that he knows one of his competitors, fellow Channahon firefighter Andy Anderson, is also a good cook. "It'll be very interesting to see who wins."

Arnold said he thought the cookoff was a great idea not only to bring in locals to the fire station, but also to support some charities. Admission was a dollar to support the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance's "I am me" Burn Camp or donations like toiletries for Chanooka Wish. He said he and his wife, Michelle, who also volunteers for the Channahon Fire Protection District, are both interested in giving back.

"We're big advocates of charity — we try to do as much as we can," he said.

After the judging, Wilson handed the trophy to Troy Fire's Iron Chefs team, which was made up of Deputy Chief Andy Doyle, Lt. John Probst and firefighter/paramedic Brian Toepke.

Portlock said the judges' decision was unanimous in awarding the top honor to the Iron Chefs' creation.

"It had some kind of a sweetness, a flavor that made it stand out among the chilis," he said. "As we tasted the different chilis, we talked about what made each stand out."

Portlock said it was a tough decision for the judges, because of the cooking talents on display.

"I was quite impressed by the different flavors of chili that the firemen prepared," he said.

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