Staff Writer – Jack Schocker
It was a night of fierce competition in the Albion Fire Station Friday, as the top cooks from across town competed in the Sixth Annual Chili Cook-Off. The event, was hosted by the Department of Public Safety and whose proceeds benefited Shop With A Cop, an event where local police officers go on shopping sprees with children. Many locals attended who, armed with Styrofoam cups and empty stomachs, judged the best chili in town. Competitors were attempting to find the right recipe that would please the judges the most.
Defending champion Lauren Elster had a unique strategy.
“I don’t try to make it special,” Elster said. “I think that’s what makes it special. I try to keep it basic, and I try not to keep it cooking. While everyone else’s Crock-Pot is on, I left my plug-in part in the car, so mine doesn’t overcook.” She also used the exact same winning recipe that she used last year; she figures, if something is not broke, why try to fix it?
Major figures in Albion were present to show off their recipes. City Attorney Cullen Harkness, who works with the Public Safety Department on a daily basis, presented a dish made entirely from scratch “with a bit of an edge. It might make you sweat.”
Sharing a table with Harkness was Lenn Reid, councilwoman from Precinct Two. She has been participating in the event since its inaugural year and even won two years in a row.
“I like helping,” Reid said. “I know the city doesn’t have a lot of money, and I like to help whatever department needs help.” When asked what sets her chili apart from the competition, Reid cheerfully replied, “Me! I love good food, and I love good cooking.”
Reid started cooking when she was seven years old, when she was instructed by her loving grandmother.
“All the time, while my children were growing up, this was the chili I made. They always liked it, them and all of their friends that they brought home with them!”
Two tables down from Harkness and Reid were John Rogers and Charles Moreau, representing the soon-to-be-opened Albion Malleable Brewery.
“We just feel, with our place starting the brewery down here, that we want to be part of the community,” Rogers said.
They pointed to a sign on their table claiming their chili was free-range and vegan. However, the sign had an asterisk, stating the above claims were totally false.
“We’re the funniest here, if not having the best chili,” Rogers said.
Other community leaders included Janice Best from Albion Rainbow Connection, the city’s LGBT organization, with a vegan, organic chili; Tim Krause from the Albion Community Foundation and his homemade spicy chili; representatives for the campaign for Tina Yost for circuit court judge and Kevin Markovich from College Chevrolet. In the end, it was Chuck Arey who wowed the judges and won the trophy for “Best Chili.” All in all, it was a delightful night of friendly competition with the money raised going towards a good cause for the city of Albion.
Photos courtesy of Albion Public Safety