A chilly, successful chili cook-off

The weather last Saturday had just enough of a chill to make the Brightway Center chili cook-off a success for a first-time cooking event.

Virginia Young was the service board member who was in charge of arrangements, with Sherry Matthews as her assistant. Shirley McCartney, Janice McCoy and her twin sister, Janet, Tim and Kim Zifzal, Steve Cochran, Rudy and Sonya Micker, Karen Rish, Joni Carlson and I assisted.

I have run Holiday Cookbook contests for many years but never experienced a chili cook-off, and the enthusiasm of those entering their favorite spicy or mild entry was contagious.

I liked the enthusiasm of Shirley Rogers, who wrote Shirley “Chili Momma” Rogers on her entry blank. She even brought some tasty cornmeal muffins to accompany her chili. Sandy Homol brought chopped green onions and shredded cheese for her entry and was tactfully told by Daryle Griffin, Brightway Center president and chief executive officer, that contestants were not to bring their own condiments.

I liked his use of words. I probably would have said “You can’t bring that stuff” or maybe would have let it slide. Who would know it was Sandy’s anyhow?

Virginia had asked for donations of sour cream, nice crusty bread and butter, crackers, cold drinks and bottles of water. The water was to put out the fire in some of the chili entries. But there were diners who truly enjoyed the spicier varieties.

I waited for the entry of David Spell until 12:15 p.m., past the noon deadline, and then let people start their sampling of all 10 entries. Then they could sit down and enjoy a big bowl of whatever they considered their favorite. At about 12:35, David came in toting a big crockpot of chili, saying he thought the contest started at 3:30 p.m. I scoffed at that excuse until I saw the “Bright New” quarterly newsletter for December on Sunday. It had the cook-off listed for 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., but this was changed after the publication came out, and David did not know this.

I offer big thanks to John Borkowski who brought his chili entry to me a week early, as he lives in Kirtland and only happened to come down for the Friends of Smithfield meeting that day. I froze it, took it a day before the contest and put it in my crockpot to heat. Then I added some hot sauce for heat as well, as he had asked me to do. It was wonderful chili, and I liked that he used pinto beans and very lean ground meat, making it very healthy. It did not win, but it won me over.

  • ????

John even went on to put the contest on Facebook so he gathered in some more contestants or chili tasters. He has been gone from Smithfield for many years, but he still keeps the place in his heart.

Each cook received an apron from Brightway, and I noticed that David Spell did not wear his. John will receive one shortly as well.

Adorable Brennin Takach, the 6-year-old grandson of Cathy Takach, Brightway project manager, took his turn going around through all the chili samples, giving his opinion in smiles, nods of his head and occasionally a grimace when the sample was a bit hot for his taste buds, not an expression that he did not like the chili. He was such a well behaved young man and even wore a colorful print shirt in the hopes that he might get his picture taken.

Little Steven Xzavier Cochran, 11-month-old son of Kristi Diab and Steve Cochran, made an appearance and was very well behaved for the length of time he was in the midst of adults who were oohing and ahhing over him and not being allowed to be down to crawl about.

Kristi brought her mother, Shirley Carpenter, and Shirley’s neighbor, Linda Hayes, along as her cheering section. Both of the ladies live in Bradley just about 2 miles from me, and I haven’t encountered them anywhere else for nearly a year.

Tim and Kim Zifzal came to work all dressed in red, a good color choice when handling chili. Tim and Steve Cochran and some friends came in during the week and set up the tables for holding the crock pots, or as they are now called slow cookers, and for the eating arrangements.

Janice McCoy had to attend the Brightway-sponsored Zumba lessons but her twin sister, Janet, brought up their donations. They were the ladies who planned and prepared the food for the breast cancer seminar that was such a big success in the early winter.

I saw Joe Homol, Sandy’s husband and one of the chili contestants, for the first time in ages. Joe, Sandy and my brother, Dale, all graduated together.

Carolyn Rea proved what friendship is all about. She made chili for the contest at the request of her friend, Sherry Matthews, who was afraid there would not be many entries. There were small gifts for all the cooks, and Carolyn came over to tell me she had not chosen the Elvis Presley tin because of the singer but for the candy inside. I guess she is not a fan of “Love Me Tender,” “Hound Dog” and “Teddy Bear” songs.

Shirley McCartney brought in the chili entry of Rob Townsend who had a fabulous chili as well. Sherry Matthew brought in the entry of her daughter, Melissa Smith, and got to be in the cooks picture representing her.

Joni Carlson took her friend, Diane Holcombe, a bowl of chili, and Lamont and I each took home a bowl for dinner that evening.

I was really feeling weary from standing from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. I can’t blame anyone for that. I was moving around trying to take pictures, accepting the $5 charge for eating at the door, handing out voting slips and giving contestants numbers.

Rudy Micker and his daughter, Sonya, were there early to help with the fundraiser. I enjoyed talking to them when things slowed down a bit.

Ann Marie Grayzar and her buddies, Louise Pastre and Mary Francis Krulcik, came to eat at the request of John Borkowski. Ann Marie and Louise are usually on the other side of cooking contests, preparing food for the events. Ann Marie makes the most wonderful poppy-seed rolls. I am blessed to get the product of her oven each Christmas, and it takes me back to when my mom made them. I don’t make the yeast rolls as no one in our household but me liked them. My brother, Dale, is a fan of them so I always share my stash from Ann Marie with him.

Ruth Ann McClelland was in back of the serving table dishing up chili samples with Mildred “Toots” Waldman, Shirley McCartney, Krisi Diab, Brenda Harris, Carolyn Rea, Sherry Matthews and Kim Zifzal. It was very hot back in Kara Bright’s display room. This is where pictures of Coach Bright are displayed, along with trophies, a varsity jacket and many yearbooks where he is pictured. He brought the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to Smithfield High School and other schools in the area and is remembered by many of the young men who went on West Liberty College retreats and to North Carolina to attend the events. My brother-in-law, Buddy McCoy, was one of those who attended, along with Tom McCain, two that I remember from so long ago.

Nancy Grim, development officer, came to the cook-off to do some tasting, along with her husband, Don Grim, contractor for the activity center that is in construction for many sports events and fundraisers. His workers were present as well.

It was a nice day and a fun way to raise money for the Brightway cause. The center is always looking for more volunteers or those to sponsor fund- raisers. It is a bright spot on the horizon for the youth of the area and those who need to rent a center for banquets.

(McCoy, a resident of Smithfield, is food editor and a staff columnist for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. She can be contacted at emccoy@heraldstaronline.com.)