Chili For A Great Cause

MFA Oil Rootin’ Tootin’ Chili Cook-off
(presented by MBS Textbook Exchange)
2 to 7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 23
Boone County Fairgrounds, 5212 N. Oakland Gravel Road
Tickets: $10 in advance;
$12 at the door

There’s something comforting about a bowl of chili. The gentle warmth of the hearty meat and the spicy flavors surround any foodie and strip out all pretentions. This month, mid-Missouri teams will descend on the county fairgrounds to champion more than 50 types of chili at the MFA Oil 8th Annual Rootin’ Tootin’ Chili Cookoff.

“Chili is just a really fun recipe to make, and everyone thinks they have the best chili recipe,” says cook-off coordinator Valorie Livingston, executive director of Boys & Girls Club of Columbia. “It’s just a really easy thing to participate in, and it’s a very family-oriented event. We have families that participate and bring their children to help them cook and decorate their booth. But we also have chefs that break out all the a la carte items and all their secret recipes and really showcase their chili. It’s a very well-rounded event.”

Teams are competitive in every aspect of the Feb. 23 event. Participating groups arrive the night before to set up their booths and equipment, with a hearty amount of spirit served up at some of the most decorated booths. The next day, they’re back to work bright and early at 8 a.m., chopping, dicing and stewing their special concoctions.

“Every chili tastes different,” Livingston says. “We do have a nontraditional chili award category, but we don’t have any hard-and-fast rules. Real chili doesn’t have beans. Well, in Missouri we all put beans in our chili, so we don’t have any restrictions like that.”

            Each team must adhere to the only rule: prepare 6 to 8 gallons of chili in the time allotted. The competition features nine award categories, including People’s Choice and the Grand Champion Chili. Local judges determine their favorites, while attendees cast their ballots for the coveted People’s Choice award.

In previous years, the competition has served a multitude of chili varieties, featuring ingredients both spicy and sweet. But the teams are serving up more than chili; they’re providing much-needed funds for the Boys & Girls Club of Columbia, which moved into a new, 9,000-square-foot youth development center in 2012. With a new facility comes new financial challenges, Livingston says.

“This year, it’s even more important that we have a wonderfully successful event because now we have the facility to serve twice as many youth, but with that comes twice the operational costs to provide those services,” she says.

The club hosts only two fundraisers a year, which cover 40 percent of the club’s yearly operational costs. More than half of those dollars raised are collected at each year’s cook-off, Livingston says.

This year, the club is setting a higher goal for money raised at the event.

“Last year, we had more than 50 teams participate and raised more than $60,000,” Livingston says. “We’re hoping for more than 2,000 in attendance this year, and we would love to have 60 teams. But we’d like to raise $65,000. That’s the goal.”

Ticket sales, corporate sponsors and donations at the event all contribute to the cook-off’s fundraising success. Teams may also host their own fundraisers prior to the event, with the top three fundraising teams awarded The Biggest Bowl Award for most money raised.

The event has moved to the Boone County Fairgrounds this year. The Boys & Girls Club hopes that the new venue will bring additional interest and visitors.

Regardless of the location, the same intense competition and satisfying chili will be ready to serve on Feb. 23.

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