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Serving up chili at the Chancellor's chili fest

6th Annual Chancellor's Chili Fest serves up spicy fun and laughs for most

When last seen Thursday, Don the Mastodon was bent over in a corner of the International Ballroom flapping his ears to whip up a wind tunnel to ease the pain of his tortured tongue.

Thinking it wouldn’t be overly spicy, the punky pachyderm tried the vegetarian chili during the 6th Annual Chancellor’s Chili Fest. The general consensus was it really wasn’t all that zesty, but somebody did have to jump in to save Don with a gallon of milk, which no one in attendance had ever seen gargled before. Slightly embarrassed, Purdue University Fort Wayne’s mascot left the fest early.

Everyone else had a ball (not a bawl) as 675 were served in three hours. In addition to satisfied taste buds, spirits also remained high throughout as illustrated by laughter and smiles that arguably eclipsed the response during any similar gathering this semester.  

“This is a fantastic event, and look at the turnout – and that says everything,” Chancellor Ron Elsenbaumer said. “I’ve been walking around the tables, and everyone says this is great. We’ve been doing this now for six years, and it gets better every year.”

Peppy but not overpowering, background music supplied by The Muleskinner Band allowed everyone to talk while simply relaxing. 

The Dining Services team once again stepped up to the plate to do its part. Executive Chef Rick Forster said it took 16 hours to cook everything. A few department members started chopping en masse on Tuesday 50 pounds of onions. “Enough to keep us in tears for the rest of the week,” Food Service Director Ben Grubisich said.

There were also 50 pounds of bell peppers, 20 pounds of jalapenos, and 10 pounds of assorted other peppers. The proteins included 120 pounds of hamburger, 10 pounds of beef tips, and 40 pounds of chicken. After the spices were added, between 180 and 200 gallons of chili were ready for consumption.  

“The hope is the chili will be ready by the time we go home on Wednesday because we all know that chili is ALWAYS better the next day,” Grubisich said.

Besides the meaty and vegetarian offerings, there were four competing recipes, some passed down through family trees for decades, with an emphasis on flavor instead of heat.

The four finalists were Zesty Ninja Chili from Financial Aid's Juliana Bengs, White Chicken Chili from Student Theatre Organization senior Brittany May, Red’s Chili from TRIO Student Support Services' Shubitha Keever, and Vic’s Famous Chili from The Q Center's Vic Spencer.

May’s white chicken chili recipe includes garlic, olive oil, and cilantro leaves.

“It’s actually a secret family recipe that I got from my mom,” said May. “My mom has entered it into contests before at work and gotten first place. We’ve tweaked it a little over the years with different spices to make it our own.”

Bengs adds cinnamon and cocoa powder in her Zesty Ninja recipe to give an undertone of sweetness.

Kever collaborates with her husband Jeremy Workman, a fellow alum who loves to cook. They grow ghost peppers, Carolina reapers, and Scotch bonnets, and even out the taste with a bit of brown sugar.

Those three finished behind Vic's Famous Chili, which includes three kinds of meat, beans and peppers, and various spices, including a dash of nutmeg. There's also pickle juice, which Spencer said helps even things out. 

Turning personal recipes into mass produced meals may be the biggest challenge for Dining Services.  

“It’s tricky because I don’t measure with spoons, I measure with my heart,” Spencer said. “Trying to translate how I make chili for somebody else to follow the instructions is sort of like, ‘Is this going to turn out how I made it? Is it going to taste right?’”

Everyone else sure thought so – except maybe Don.