Story and photos by  Manos Angelakis

Nevada-Reno Chili Cookoff logo

Judging Chili!

I’m a fairly good judge of wine and I can judge the food of a restaurant as far as ingredient quality and the expertise of a chef in creating an interesting and well-tasting dish.

Nevada-Reno ICS Awards

But it was the first time I was asked to be one of the judges at the 49th Annual World Championship Chili Cookoff of ICS (International Chili Society). ICS is the largest food contest and festival organization in the world. The event took place in Reno, Nevada while I was visiting the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino. In addition to the competition, there was a beer garden (to extinguish some of the fire from the samples of the more aggressive chili makers) and craft vendors.

Nevada-Reno Chili Roadkill Diner

Entrants from all over the United States arrived and setup cooking stations in tents at the RV parking lot of the hotel – the property is large with over 2000 rooms, so there are numerous parking lots and RV facilities surrounding the resort. I saw entrants from Texas, Ohio, Illinois, South Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey… I think practically every State was represented, but I did not see anyone from Alaska or Hawaii… hum! I suppose chili is not a staple in either of those states…

Nevada-Reno Firefighter's Table

On Friday, Reno’s local firehouses were participating in the event with a Chili Challenge  and I thought that their chili samples were all exceptional. What I liked most was the red chili from the fire brigade of the Reno Air National Guard base. I asked if it was the firehouse from Area 52, but nobody would answer the question; though one particular fireperson waved a dismissive tentacle my way (sic).

My contribution was to participate as a judge at the Sunday Traditional Red Chili Finals. Actually, there were three major competitions during the three-day event and a couple minors going on: Salsa as well as Chili Verde (Green Chili) on Saturday and Traditional Red Chili on Sunday.

Nevada-Reno Eileen Beaty Stand

The chili competition is very serious and even though the weather was inclement early in the day, showering the area with much needed rain, it was well attended and with numerous chili “masters” participating. And if you think that the event is insignificant, the winner of the Red Chili competition received a trophy and a $25,000 check with second and third winners also getting considerable amounts. The awards for the Verde Chili were a trophy and $4,000 for first, with second and third also getting comparable awards. The Salsa winners got a trophy and $2,000 for first place, plus comparable awards for second and third.

Nevada-Reno Toad's Backyard Chili Co

Friday, Saturday and Sunday there were also awards for People’s Choice each day, as visitors could walk around the tents and cooking stations and taste each individual chili participant in the competition. Additionally there was a Homestyle Chili award as well.

Nevada-Reno Red Chili Sample 2

The difference between the walk-around and official competition was that each chili presented to the general public had meat (either ground or chunked) and sauce and almost all had beans; the entries in the competition had no beans, just chunked meat and sauce, and we were given sour cream and tortilla chunks to cleanse our palate between tasting each entry. I liked many of the samples I tasted both at the cooking stations and during the judging. Because the judging was blind -- all we were given was a number for each sample -- I can’t say whether the samples I really liked were amongst the winners or not.

I did not have the time to stay for the awards ceremony as I had tastings to do of dishes at Reno City restaurants, but I do have the competition’s results. If you ever see any of these names on a tent or restaurant marquee, run in. Their chili versions are indeed exceptional. 

Traditional Red Chili

First Place: Team #141 Dave Hipskind
Second Place: Team #214 Kathy Plager
Third Place: Team #198 Bob Plager
Fourth Place: Team #112 Charlie Blosfield
Fifth Place: Team #128 Nick Fadich

Verde Chili

First Place: Team #336 Eileen Beaty (I liked her red Chili very much)
Second Place: Team #337 Tom Hoover
Third Place: Team #330 Bob Hall
Fourth Place: Team #355 Irene Menchaca
Fifth Place: Team #395 Susie Decker


First Place: Team #255 Scott Navaroli
Second Place: Team #208 Priscilla Licon
Third Place: Team #276 Sachiko Brecke





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