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Friday, Oct. 19, 2012

Chili cook hopes for three-peat at Lenexa challenge

Special to The Star

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Larry Velasquez added his name to the Lenexa Chili Challenge record book last year when he won the prestigious Chili Appreciation Society International division a second consecutive time.

“This year I’m going for a three-peat,” said Velasquez, who hopes he and his Chili Puercos team can win an unprecedented third C.A.S.I. championship today.

Jerri Dowdy of Kansas City and her Dumb Blonde Chili team has matched Velasquez with two C.A.S.I. division titles (2006 and 2009) but they weren’t back-to-back. She started competing in 2003 but didn’t enter this year.

“It’s the first Chili Challenge I’ve missed. Unfortunately, I had a prior commitment,” Dowdy said. “But I’ll be back next year. It’s always fun to win but I also know if you go in expecting to win you’re going to be disappointed.”

The 26th annual Lenexa Chili Challenge was scheduled to get underway Friday night in Old Town Lenexa on the Northeast corner of Pflumm and Santa Fe Trail Drive with music by the BailiRoot band, fireworks and games for youngsters.

Judging begins at noon today following family activities that start at 9 a.m. with more music, free art projects, face painting and free chili samples. Presentation of awards will be at 4 p.m.

Velasquez began competing in the Chili Challenge in 1997 but without much success. “I kept changing my recipe hoping to hit a winning combination,” he said. “After winning in 2010 I vowed never to change it again. I have it written down and hidden. Not even my wife knows where it is.”

Hiding the recipe may be a good idea. He and his wife, Peggy, and her Chili Peg team always compete against each other. “She usually beat me until I got on a roll. We’re friendly competitors. We cook side by side at the Challenge,” Velasquez said.

Sharon Hammontree of Overland Park and her Lenexa Historical Society team won the Home Style chili division in 2003, 2007and 2011. “I seem to win every four years. I don’t know how I got on that cycle. I use the exact same recipe every year.

“Maybe they rotate the judges every four years so the same ones taste my chili every four years,” she said with a laugh.

Home Style chili includes any kind of meat with beans and any other filler the cook wants to add. Only meat with chili peppers and spice — no beans — is permitted in the Chili Appreciation Society International division.

One hundred eighty-five teams, the maximum, are entered in the Challenge this year. First place winners in C.A.S.I. and Home Style each receive $200 gift certificates, second wins a $125 certificate and third $50. In the other categories winners receive $50 certificates, second get $20 certificates and third get $10 certificates.

Paul Allen Overland Park has been a judge in the C.A.S.I. division for 10 years. “I’m a meat person, no beans. Beans don’t make real chili,” he said. “I judge the division finals after the field is narrowed to about 20 teams. I taste a sample, cleanse my palate with a cracker or grape, and start fresh on the next sample.”

Allen also has been a judge at the Great Lenexa Barbecue Battle 26 years. “Barbecue in the summer and chili in the winter,” said Allen, who has never been a contestant at either event.

A three-year winning streak in the Hot Wings division by Jamie Volk of Shawnee and his Some Like it Hot team was snapped last year by Jon Niederbremer and his Jon Russell BBQ team. Both are entered again this year.

“Last year was the eighth time I’ve competed. I kept practicing and I guess I finally got it right. Hot wings are my passion,” Niederbremer said. “I’ll be defending my title, so they better have their guns loaded when they come after me.”

Some changes have been made in the Chili Challenge categories this year, said Jenny Doty, recreation supervisor with the Lenexa Parks and Recreation Department, sponsors of the event. “The winner of C.A.S.I. no longer receives expense money for a trip to the International Chili Championship in Terlingua, Texas,” she said.

“We also discontinued the People’s Choice category and replaced it with a pico de gallo category (a chunky type of salsa) to go with the other categories, C.A.S.I., Home Style, Hot Wings, Salsa, and Showmanship,” Doty said.

In past contests the winner of the People’s Choice category was determined by the vote of visitors who tasted chili samples and made a donation to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in the name of team whose chili they preferred. “This year each team will ask visitors to make donations to the Foundation,” Doty said. Last year nearly $3,500 was raised for the Foundation.

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