Chili benefit gets off to hot start

Reigning chili champions, first-timers and a runaway bride filled the Ellis County Expo Center for the 12th annual Gingerbread House Chili Cook-Off and Barn Dance that began with a Friday night cook-off.

As most of the cooks had already set up and started seasoning with ingredients, runaway bride Melissa Johnson arrived at the Expo Center to participate in the cook-off.

Johnson, dressed in a wedding gown, said she had just left her fiancé at the wedding altar to come to Waxahachie to cook her chili.

“He (the groom) told me he didn’t want me cooking chili because I could no longer fit in my wedding dress,” Johnson said, who was competing in the CASI show competition.

“I had to leave him at the altar to come cook my chili. Chili is my passion,” Johnson said. “My thing is cooking chili. I was going to marry this man. I almost made a huge mistake. I am not going to marry this man who did not want me cooking chili.”

Not to be outshone by a runaway bride were six Terlingua International champions who brought Coleman camp stoves and boxes of spices and meats to compete in the CASI-sanctioned cook-off.

One of the champions was Dallas resident Shirley Sexton, who came out with her son, Doyle Sexton. “This is my first time to come to a cook-off since I got sick in December,” Shirley said.

“We picked her up at the convalescent center this morning,” added D’Ann Sexton.

“I wouldn’t have missed this for anything. I love to cook chili,” said Shirley, who was the 2000 International champion at the Terlingua International Championship Chili Cook-off.

The Waxahachie cook-off drew chili chefs from all over Texas, as far away as Lubbock and six out of state chefs from Shreveport, La.

All took part in the annual benefit for the Ellis County Children’s Advocacy Center, also known as the Gingerbread House.

“We’ll travel anywhere to cook chili. We love to cook as well as the camaraderie of being with old friends,” said Mark Sanders.

By the end of registration Saturday, more than 80 cooks had signed up.

For several, it was a first year to participate in a CASI-sanctioned cook-off.

First-time competitor Greg Raburn of Aubrey was also endeavoring to break in a brand new camp stove.

Raburn and his daughter, Haley, were coached by Ron Raburn, who is a veteran at the Waxahachie cook-off.

Another first-timer was James Hardy Rogers of Rice, Texas. The 7-year-old donned his chili apron and fired up his oven for his junior division entry.

The cooks are competing in several divisions including chili, chili with beans, local chili and junior division chili.

“The real chili, according to CASI, the sanctioning organization of all chili cook-offs, only has meats, gravy and spices – no beans,” Sanders said. “I love beans in my chili but, for (CASI) competition, the rules say no beans.

“For those who cook in the beans category, there are no rules and anything goes,” Sanders said.

Cooks participate in cook-offs across the region hoping to gain points to be invited to the international competition in Terlingua.

The cook-off began 12 years ago when Gingerbread House Executive Director John Wyckoff, chili cooks Dan Grannan and Robin Fox along with JoAnn Livingston met at a local restaurant to discuss the possibility of a cook-off as a fundraiser for the Gingerbread House.

“I took the concept to my board of directors and here we are 12 years later,” Wyckoff said.

“Beside being a fundraiser for the Gingerbread House, the cook-off brings awareness for what the Gingerbread House does for the children of Ellis County,” Wyckoff said.

Friday night’s top 10 winners were Judy Russell in first, Terry Skipper in second and David Manske in third place. Rounding out the list were Jason Clark, Kay Lefler, Bob Pullum, David Lefler, Vickie Sanders and Mark Sanders.

Saturday was the second day of CASI completion, with the top prizewinner of a cook-off camp stove to be announced after judging that afternoon.

The weekend festivities were slated to continue Saturday night with a barn dance and sponsors’ dinner. The final cook-off is slated for Sunday morning at the Expo Center.

– Mike Sackett, correspondent, Waxahachie Daily Light (used with permission)


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