‘Royalty’ expected for Ohio Chili Championships
Chili cooks will face off in Westerville this weekend to see whose stew could stand up in a world-championship cook off.
CaJohn’s Fiery Foods, 816 Green Crest Drive, will host the Buckeye Regional and Ohio State Chili Championships from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 1-2.
Both events are qualifiers for the International Chili Society’s World Chili Championship, to be held in October in West Virginia.
The competition for the Buckeye Regional division, which includes Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, West Virginia and Kentucky, begins Sept. 1 and will include categories for the best red chili, green chili and salsa.
The Ohio state competition will be Sept. 2, with cooks competing in the same categories.
The Sept. 2 event also will include Westerville Sertoma’s annual Cool Cars-Hot Stuff car show.
The event is free, and attendees can sample the competing chilis for $6.
The event is expected to draw competitors from as far away as Texas, including five past international champions, said CaJohn’s owner John Hard.
“We’re going to have the royalty. We’re going to have a lot of super chilis here,” he said. “Some of the people are restaurant people. Some of the people are just, I don’t know what you’d say, chili addicts.”
Hard, a Westerville High School and Otterbein University graduate who now lives in Minerva Park, said it seemed natural to bring the competition to his hometown.
“These two events have been around for 30 years. It’s just they haven’t been in Columbus since the 1990s,” Hard said. “We have the perfect place to hold it behind our building ... I thought it would be a great thing to help kick off the fall, to have people come in and compete with chili. It’s an American staple, especially for the fall and winter.”
In addition to the chili competition, the event will include a DJ, hot-sauce vendors from across the country, televisions playing the Ohio State football game and an amateur chili competition, said CaJohn’s Lisa Newkirk.
“If someone really thinks they make the best chili, for a $5 entry fee, they can come and we have a period set aside for amateur judging. It’s people’s choice,” Newkirk said.
There also will be chili competitions for local restaurants and for city groups, including policemen, firemen and medics.
The International Chili Society requires that chilis be made on premises, so those who attend the championship also will be able to watch the cooks in action, Newkirk said.
Hard has coordinated the event with city officials and the Westerville Visitors and Convention Bureau, he said, and the hope is that the event will continue to be hosted in Westerville and grow each year.
“I want to make it an annual thing, and we have the city behind us,” Hard said. “This is something that can grow to be very big.”