Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013
Past champs hope for more wins in Lenexa Chili Challenge
By JOE HENDERSON
Special to The Star
factbox1-B97352823ZChili Challenge this weekend Lindsay Hart, recreation superintendent of the Lenexa Parks and Recreation Department, said there are 185 teams — the maximum allowed — entered in the Lenexa Chili Challenge this year. Gates open for the event, in Old Town Lenexa on the northeast corner of Pflumm Road and Santa Fe Trail Drive, opens at 6 p.m. Friday. The band The Shanks go on at 7 p.m., followed by fireworks. Judging starts at noon Saturday and winners will be announced at 4:30 p.m. Free chili samples from contestants and entertainment begins at 10 a.m. First place winners in the C.A.S.I. and Homestyle divisions receive a $200 gift certificate and plaque. Second place in those divisions wins a $125 gift certificate and third takes home a $50 certificate. Winners in the Hot Wings, Salsa and Showmanship categories win $50 gift certificates, second is a $20 certificate and third is $10.
Jason Lamons and his Burnin’ the Backside team has been competing in the Lenexa Chili Challenge for six years but it was 2010 when he really made his presence known.
That was the year he won first place in the Homestyle category and took second place in the prestigious Chili Appreciation Society International division. After winning Homestyle again last year he’s after his third win in Homestyle Saturday, hoping to erase the memory of being shut out in 2011.
“I used the same recipe as always. I think beer got in my way that year,” he said with a laugh. “This year I’m going to behave and see if I can nail down that third win.”
“I have to say I’ve been pretty lucky,” said Lamons, who lives in Shawnee. “Luck had a lot to do with it in 2010. That was the best ever. It was just unbelievable. When the judging starts there are a lot of tastes your chili has to satisfy. I’m definitely staying with the same recipe that got me here.”
Among the cookers competing against Lamons is Sharon Hammontree and her Lenexa Historical Society team. She has won the Homestyle category three times. All her wins have come on odd-numbered years, 2003, 2007, 20ll…and here we are in 2013.
“For some reason it does seem odd-numbered years are lucky for me, although my wins have been four years apart,” said Hammontree who lives in Overland Park. She’s a model of consistency when it comes to cooking chili. She never varies her original recipe, win or lose. “It’s the kind of chili I like. It’s what we have at home. I just hope the judges like it, too.”
Homestyle chili may include any kind of meat with beans and any other filler the cook wants to add. Only meat with chili peppers and spices can be used in the Chili Appreciation Society International division, no beans.
Larry Velasquez set a Chili Challenge precedent in 2010 and 2011 with back to back wins in the C.A.S.I. division. But his hopes for a three-peat were dashed last year when he had to settle for eighth place. “Oh yeah, I wanted a three-peat but it didn’t break my heart when I didn’t get it,” said Velasquez, who lives in Mission. “I was happy to finish in the top 10.”
“I’d like to believe the judges just made a mistake but I can’t really say that,” he said. “I’m not discouraged. I just have to try to start another streak. There are a lot of good cooks out there and it’s hard to please everyone.”
Velasquez and his Chili Puercos team have been competing in the Challenge since 1997, but it wasn’t until 2010 that he had a winner. “I kept changing my recipe every year but nothing clicked until I won my first C.A.S.I. After that I made up my mind to stick with that recipe from now on,” he said.
Jamie Volk of Shawnee and his Some Like it Hot team saw their three-year winning streak in the Hot Wings category snap two years ago. “I think our wings were too hot the last two years” he said. “I’ve done a little testing since then and I believe we have a better balance now. Hopefully we can get back to our winning ways.”
Volk also enters the C.A.S.I. and Homestyle divisions along with Hot Wings but has never placed. “I don’t know what the judges like but I know it’s not what we’re cooking,” he said ruefully.