October 21, 2006 will be the fourth annual Wabash Cannonball "Chili for Charity" Cook-off at Paradise Spring in Wabash. This event was originally the brainchild of "Wild Bill" Gerding (Market Street Grill) and Steve "Bo" Bowman (Old Kettle Saloon). They conceived of the cook-off as having two main purposes: 1) to raise some money for local charities and 2) to bring people to Wabash to have fun. Of course, the fact that the fun revolved around chili, one of Bill's favorite subjects (he being the winner of many a chili contest himself) was a driving factor.
I was fortunate to be invited onto the Chili Cook-off Committee. The term "committee" is somewhat misleading because normally, a committee implies Roberts Rules of Order, formality, dedication to a strict agenda - none of which applies in this case. Everyone gathers in the backroom of the Market Street Grill to hash out plans and ideas in a somewhat disorganized way that includes lots of laughter. Bill and Steve are our own version of Thursday Night Live, although they frequently trade roles, being Clever or Clueless, by turns.
The method works because, ultimately, everything gets done properly and professionally which is proven by the fact that ours is now the largest sanctioned chili cook-off in the state of Indiana. In the last four years, Chili for Charity has given over $40,000 to Wabash County organizations, such as the Animal Shelter, the new Wabash museum and Shop with a Cop. This year's recipients will be: CASA (which advocates for children involved in the legal system), Operation ELF (providing Christmas for poor children), the Dallas L. Winchester Senior Center Food Pantry, The Firehouse in North Manchester and the Woman's Clubhouse.
The number of contestants continues to increase (we're hoping for close to 100 cooks this year); the number of people who attend continues to grow as well. Last year, between 2,000 and 3,000 wandered around the grounds of Paradise Spring, having paid $5 to taste all the different chili recipes. Contestants, some from as far away as Illinois, Ohio and Florida, compete in producing the best-tasting chili - like Dreamweaver's Chili, Gut Buster Chili, Hosehandler's Chili, Bahama Mama's Chili, Diamond Coyote Chili, Smokey Joe's Chili, Blown Gasket Chili, among many others. There are also showmanship categories. In the past, we've had cops and robbers, hillbillies and dance hall women, cowgirls and Colts cheerleaders. Besides chili, attendees can enjoy live bands, take their kids to have their faces painted, eat the best tenderloin sandwiches from Tim Roberts' mega-Traeger grill or visit the beer tent. Oldies 106 will be on hand, as always, to describe the action in real time.
There simply isn't a better way to spend a crisp fall day than at the beautiful Paradise Springs grounds, either competing by cooking chili or simply eating your fill of the best chili recipes in the state and beyond. So, come down and join us this year. You'll have a great time and by doing so, you'll also contribute to worthy causes right here in Wabash County.
Visit www.chiliforcharity.com for details.