Talented chefs have a shot at making it to the world championship
The 2020 International Chili Society World Qualifier Chili Cook-off at European Village is a mouthful of an event title, fitting for a weekend that will have spectators and judges alike digging into the spiciest and savoriest recipes the assorted chefs can stir up.
From 12 to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 7 and 8, chili cooks from all over the country will compete in four categories: homestyle (must include beans), red (no beans, just meat and sauce), verde (green enchilada sauce as a base) and veggie (no meat). The winner will have a chance at progressing to the world championship in Des Moines, Iowa, and vying for the $25,000 first place prize.
The ICS has partnered with Heather Thompson for the event, the third time such a cook-off has come to Palm Coast. Thompson does the coordinating all on her own these days, but during the event’s gestation she was assisted by veteran chili cook Larry Weltikol.
“She’s probably one of the best event coordinators I’ve ever run across,” Weltikol said.
Weltikol, who has been a self-declared “chilihead” since 1989, thinks the event will draw between 40 and 50 competitors this year, far meatier than last year’s 27. If his prediction proves correct, it could be good news for a local non-profit as well as all the steel-tongued connoisseurs who show up; as it did last year, a large portion of the event’s proceeds will go to Teens-in-Flight, the local charity helping children of soldiers wounded or killed in action learn to fly aircraft.
“Since 1967,” Weltikol said, “we’ve given out over $150 million in charity money.”
The chili making that money will be the minimum two gallons of “people’s choice” each cook is required to make, different from what they’ll be serving to the judges. ICS cookouts typically have judging schools, so that anyone can learn the parameters of taste, aroma and texture and become a qualified chili judge for a fee. Each table at a cookout has multiple judges, so the process of allotting points to competitors is guaranteed a level of fairness, accounting for a broad swath of tastes.
“I really don’t believe there’s a secret,” Weltikol said. “There’s a lot of luck.”
And preparation, too, sometimes two refrigerators’ worth of raw ingredients and preserved powders like Weltikol has in his garage, in the same space as his cook-off trophies and medals. Those refrigerators are no less packed before this event — he plans to compete in all four categories.
“I’ve been having a good time with veggies,” he said.
Not that he’s expecting an easy time. These qualifiers bring previous world champions, the best cooks from all over the country and outside it.
“It’ll be all tough competitors,” Weltikol said. “Competitors that have been cooking for years.”
But the tough competition is part of the fun. It pushes everyone to the limits of their skills and palates.
“It’s a great pastime,” he said. “”It’s the camaraderie of all the cooks — they’re good people, they always look out for each other.”
Aspiring young cooks will have a chance to join those culinary comrades in the youth division. Kids from age 6 to 16 get to join the ICS for a reduced entry fee and have a shot at a $10,000 prize in cash or a scholarship at the world championship if they qualify.
Palm Coast’s youth will be very present in European Village, between a flyover by the students of Teens-in-Flight and performances by the Matanzas High School Drum Line.
“They can all look forward to a great time,” Weltikol said.