Last fall, a new tradition was born. At the annual Taste of Great Falls celebration, the Great Falls Business and Professional Association (BPA) held its first annual Chili Cook-Off. The event was enthusiastically received, and starting at the end of January, the winning recipes will be served at both the Old Brogue Irish Pub and at The Tavern of Great Falls.
In order to celebrate the new homes of these recipes, both the Old Brogue and The Tavern will be hosting "Chili on a Chilly Evening" this Saturday, Jan. 29 at 5 p.m. Residents can go to both establishments to order a bowl of award-winning chili. The Old Brogue will be serving the Great Falls Ecumenical Council recipe, and The Tavern will be serving the Great Falls Newcomers recipe.
BPA member Lynne Simmons co-chaired the Chili Cook-off with fellow member Monica Neshat. Simmons is ecstatic that last fall's first attempt went so well and that there will be a constant reminder of its success at two of the community's most popular watering holes.
"We really wanted it to feel like a hometown celebration," said Simmons.
Eighteen civic organizations were invited to participate in the Chili Cook-off, and eight of these formed six teams, which was the allowed number for the event. The participating teams were the Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA)/Great Falls Trailblazers, the Friends of the Great Falls Library/Great Falls Friends, the Great Falls Lions Club, Friends of Colvin Run, The Great Falls Ecumenical Council and the Great Falls Newcomers.
Two prizes were awarded — the Judge's Award, which was made up of a panel of professional chefs, and the People's Choice Award. The Great Falls Ecumenical Council won the Judge's Award, and the Great Falls Newcomers won the People's Choice Award.
"I have to tell you it was a lot of fun," said Rita MacDonald, communications liaison for Great Falls Newcomers. "We had a real team effort."
THE NEWCOMERS used their Cookbook Cooking Group to come up with their recipe. They tried out 13 different recipes and settled on one to use for the Cook-off. The recipe came from former Newcomers President Barb Chen. Chen's husband is Taiwanese, and MacDonald says she suspects the "secret ingredient might have something to do with the Orient."
The Great Falls Ecumenical Council got its winning recipe from Marcia Nicolai. It was a recipe that had previously won the Christ the King Lutheran Church Chili Cook-Off, and it is a little different from a typical chili in that it does not call for any beans.
"It was her Uncle Hank's recipe," said Charles Schwab, a spokesperson for the team. "There was just no question once we started cooking it and tasting it that it was going to win."
Two framed certificates, along with photos of the winning teams, have been hanging in the Great Falls Library but will be moved to The Tavern and The Old Brogue this weekend. The Tavern will display the Great Falls Newcomers photo and The Old Brogue will display the Great Falls Ecumenical Council photo.
Putting together the cook-off was no easy task.
"It was a lot of work for everyone involved," said Simmons.
However, MacDonald pointed out that "the first time is always the hardest," and that last year's trials and tribulations will simply provide more know-how for the next time.
As food was being served to the general public, the groups had to adhere to strict Health Department mandates. The participating organizations had to attend a Health Department tutorial prior to getting started. Chili had to be cooked in designated and approved kitchens, and it had to be cooked to a certain temperature — a factor which almost hindered the success of the Newcomers.
"We cooked ours the day before, and we lined up the crock pots to re-heat it on the day of, and the Health Department said, 'No, you can't do that. It has to be cooked to that temperature again,'" said MacDonald.
After a momentary panic, Marcia Nicolai came to the rescue by offering up an extra pot that the Ecumenical Council had with them. MacDonald says this is proof that the cook-off really brought the community together.
"And this is the only time in Great Falls where all the local organizations have an opportunity to promote themselves," said MacDonald.
For now, residents can enjoy the winning recipes at their local haunts. Given the success of last year's event, it seems likely that it will go off again at this year's Taste of Great Falls, provided that the community organizations want to be involved. Chances are high, since the popularity of chili cook-offs seems to be a steady trend.
"There are as many opinions on chili as there are about barbecue," said Simmons.