The magical fruit: Chili beans benefit local charities

By on February 17, 2016
The Fire & Ice Chili Cook-Off judges had their fill of spicy beans when they sampled 22 varieties at the Feb. 13 charity event.

The Fire & Ice Chili Cook-Off judges had their fill of spicy beans when they sampled 22 varieties at the Feb. 13 charity event.

There was chili with beans and Texas-style chili without beans. There was chili with ground beef, ground pork, beef brisket, chicken, turkey, bacon, chorizo and even wild boar. There were secret ingredients like beer, chocolate stout, cocoa and cinnamon.

When the Lititz Fire & Ice Festival Chili Cook-Off chefs were done, there were 22 different kinds of chili, with six celebrity judges and some 1,500 chili-lovers picking their top choices for the best chili of 2016.

The cafeteria at Warwick High School was shoulder-to-shoulder at one point, with people sampling chilies that ranged from super spicy to not-too-spicy to just right.

“I love all the variety, our chefs get more and more creative every year,” said Dawn Rissmiller, event organizer and one of the six judges.

At Lititz's Fire & Ice event, People’s Choice chili winners from A Week Away and Characters Pub include (left to right) Jackie Stipe, Megan Scheffey, Andy Burke and Marie McCune.

People’s Choice chili winners from A Week Away and Characters Pub include (left to right) Jackie Stipe, Megan Scheffey, Andy Burke and Marie McCune.

The coveted People’s Choice Award was presented to A Week Away, a local non-profit that coordinates and finances respite weeks for families who are battling a life-threatening illness. This group’s chili was made by Characters Pub in Lancaster, and the winning batch was a classic meat and bean chili with a secret blend of spices. One of them, it was revealed, was the Chimayo pepper, which lent the chili its smoky flavor.

Each of the 22 chilies at the festival were cooked to benefit various community charities, including Lititz Meals on Wheels, March of Dimes, Good Samaritan Fund, Cystic Fibrosis Fund, the Magic Foundation, Ephrata VFW, Pet Pantry, Water Street Rescue Mission, and House of His Creation.

A Week Away was founded by Caleb Walker, who died at 23 after a long battle with brain cancer.

“We are so grateful to receive the People’s Choice Award,” said Jackie Stipe, volunteer with A Week Away.

Holly Love & Steve Zuckerman

Holly Love & Steve Zuckerman

In addition to the People’s Choice, there were six winners selected by the panel of celebrity judges. The most recognized of the judges was Jon Gosselin, former star of the reality TV show “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” which chronicled the lives of Gosselin and his now-ex-wife Kate as they raised their lively twins and sextuplets. He co-authored the book “Multiple Blessings: Surviving to Thriving with Twins and Sextuplets.” His 2009 divorce stirred some controversy, but at the chili cook-off, he was focused on tasting chili.

“My kids love to help me make chili. They like it really spicy, as I do,” Gosselin said. “There is one chili here that’s spicy enough for me.”

That chili turned out to be Jim Owens’ recipe with ground beef and seven kinds of peppers. Owens created his award-winning chili to benefit the Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute Fund.

Dawn Rissmiller & Todd Rucci

Dawn Rissmiller & Todd Rucci

Radio personality, Chameleon Club owner, and chili judge Holly Love was one of the first to pick her favorite chili. It was Dosie Dough’s “Lucky Chili,” created by Amy Lloyd, with smoked bacon and a hint of beer. The chili benefited Ephrata Area Rehab Services, or EARS, which serves people with special needs.

“This year the chefs from EARS prepared the chili. They did it all themselves, and they should be very proud,” Lloyd said.

Meanwhile, the Warwick Baseball Parents Association hit a home run with judge Steve Zuckerman, founder of Clipper Magazine. Their classic not-too-spicy offering was the perfect topping for baseball stadium chili dogs that were served along with cups of the chili.

Warwick High School basketball coach and first-time judge Chris Christensen voted for Girls on the Run, a non-profit dedicated to empowering girls. This chili featured Andouille sausage, tomatoes and beans.

Warwick School Board member and former NFL football player Todd Rucci was back at the judges table this year. He was taken with Isaac’s Buffalo chili, with black beans and mixed cheeses to cool the spice. This chili benefited Pet Pantry, which offers food and care for pet owners in need, as well as pet rescue and adoption.

Chris Christensen & Jon Gosselin

Chris Christensen & Jon Gosselin

Then there was Rissmiller’s top choice. The Fire & Ice co-founder and Lititz Leos advisor found her chili “ole” with Moravian Manor’s Mexican style chili, created by chef Lauren Scorzetti, who used Mexican chili peppers, spices and beans, and topped it all off with pico de gallo. The chili benefited the Lititz recCenter.

“Of all my responsibilities with the Fire & Ice Festival, judging the chili cook-off might be my favorite,” Rissmiller said. “Every year we have so many different kinds of chilies, and they all benefit organizations that help the community.”

That was the mission of Appalachian Brewing Company’s chili with Chocolate Avenue Stoudt and cinnamon, benefiting Lititz Meals on Wheels. James Carr of Brethren Village cooked up his “balanced” chili with ground pork and wild boar to benefit the Good Samaritan Fund.

Quinn Hacker of Luther Acres created an extra dark and rich chili with ground chuck, beef brisket and dried cherries for a smoky sweet flavor that benefited the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Foundation. Paul Dohner’s chili for the Lititz United Methodist Church was another sweet and spicy dish, which used beef brisket and smoked brown sugar from Olio in Lititz. Their charity was the Appalachian Service Project.

“We’ve been involved in the chili cook-off since the beginning,” Dohner said. “It’s a great event, and everyone has a great time. There are so many different ways to make chili.”

It was also a great way to warm up. With outside temperatures around 10 degrees, the Warwick High School cafeteria was warm, smoky and toasty. Chili lovers were shedding their coats, gloves and hats to indulge for a good cause.

Rissmiller said it will take about two weeks to finalize how much money was raised for the participating charities, and an event banquet is planned for next month.

Laura Knowles is a local freelance feature writer who loves food assignments. She particularly enjoyed the combination of brisket and cherries used in the Luther Acres chili recipe. She welcomes reader feedback and story tips at lknowles21@gmail.com.

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