Annual Lansing chili cook off draws large crowd, engages community

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Chili_1Lansing residents were given the treat of tasting a wide variety of chili from peers and local businesses on Feb. 26 at the fourth annual Lewton Elementary School chili cook off.

A crowd of up to 100 guests packed the small gymnasium to taste chili from 13 different vendors that varied in recipes and presentation of their meal. Some of the competitors offered cheese or crackers with their taster cup of chili, while others experimented with bacon bits and other vegetables.

The competition featured four local celebrity judges, including state representative Andy Schor and wife of Lansing Mayor, Teri Bernero.

The event had a $1 entrance fee and also was raffling off gift cards and other prizes.

Nicole Armbruster is part of the Lewton Elementary School PTA and helped organize the event this year. Armbruster said the event is a good mix-up in the middle of the winter to help engage the community with the school.

“It’s just a great event to (have) in the middle of winter to get everybody together (and) out of the house,” Armbruster said. “We like to really integrate the community, that’s why we have the restaurants and open it up to not just Lewton families, but the community as well.”Chili_2

Armbruster said the turnout for this year’s event was more than expected because of the large number of community members not associated with the school that attended.

This year the planning group added fan categories to the competition, said Armbruster. The attendees were able to choose their favorite chili and the best presentation.

Amy Cole of Lansing went outside the box with her chili cook off recipe, adding a secret ingredient to please the sweet tooth of individuals at the event – Hershey’s candy bars.

“It counteracts the tomato acid that’s naturally in tomatoes,” Cole said. “Then I add a little basil, garlic (and) regular dark kidney beans, but that’s the secret ingredient, that’s the Hershey’s.”

Cole said her granddaughter, who attends Lewton Elementary, asked her to compete in the event because she enjoys the chocolate-filled chili so much.

With the secret ingredient in her back pocket, Cole was confident it was her chili that was going to take home the top prize.

“Well ya know, I think I have a secret ingredient so it gives me a little bit of a difference,” Cole said. “I don’t know too many people who put a candy bar in their chili.”

However, Cole was going to have to compete against a couple local professionals who won the event last year. Mercedes Holguin and Jesse Hahn of Lansing restaurant Fork in the Road Lansing were at the event for a third straight year looking to win the top prize again.

Holguin said Fork in the Road is a community focused business, so although defending their crown as top-chili chefs was a motive to return, she said engaging with the local residents also brought the organization back this year.

“It’s just nice to engage people from the community,” Holguin said. “When we’re stuck at the restaurant we only get people who come in, so it’s nice to kind of talk to everybody, see where everybody’s at and get to know some people.”

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