By SUE SUCHYTA
HEIGHTS – The annual Dearborn Heights Fire Department Chili Cookoff returned Aug. 21, after a year off during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, to help send young burn victims to summer camp.
Jamal Faraj of the DHFD said the event tries to raise $10,000 every year, through raffles and chili sales, and he is confident the goal will be met this year as a result of the 28th chili cookoff.
The $10,000 fundraising goal would send 20 children to burn camp.
Faraj estimates that more than 1,000 people attended during the afternoon event, with 16 contestants providing chili, of which more than half were first-time entrants.
He said local businesses and other fire departments supported the fundraiser with raffle prizes and cash donations, as well.
The winning chili, Tom’s Smoke Shack Chili, was created by Thomas Worthington, a retired Emergency Medical Services provider, who is now a paramedic instructor at Schoolcraft College in Livonia.
Faraj said the event planners were nervous about the turnout, having lost a year to COVID-19, and were worried that they might have to cancel the event if the Delta variant worsened.
“We were just hoping we would get a good turnout, like we usually do,” he said. “I was very, very pleased with the turnout, and, in the end, I think it will be one of the best that we have done so far.”
Faraj said the event had many generous sponsors and donors, including El-Sayed Meat Market of Dearborn Heights, which supplied bottled water, hamburgers and hot dogs for attendees, and halal ground beef free of charge for the chili contest contestants who wished to use it in their recipe, as well as a $500 check to send a child to burn camp.
Mayor Bill Bazzi said it was heartwarming to see so many attendees.
“Our community is together, and families are here, outdoors, and just having a great time,” he said. “Our firefighters are very involved with the community and they have great initiative and they do a lot of things for the community. I am so proud of our fire department.”
Chili cookoff winner Worthington said the event raises money for a great cause.
“Anything we can do to help that resource – it’s phenomenal,” he said.
Worthington said this is the first year he entered his chili, at the urging of his son-in-law, who works for the city of Dearborn Heights.
He said his chili is made from a slow-smoked beef brisket, cooked for more than 12 hours, and there are no beans in his chili.
“The rest is just magic and love,” he said.
Steve Landfair, a Detroit EMS responder, said he used his father, Matt Landfair’s, recipe, which has been improved over the years.
Matt Landfair said he puts a lot of love into his chili, and he loves supporting the burn drive.
“I’ve been doing it for 10 years, and it is just a great time,” he said. “I didn’t win this year, but I did win, because my pot is empty.”
Rodney Berro, a first-time entrant, and owner of the Dearborn Heights Lunch Box restaurant, said slow cooking is the secret to his halal chili.
“We actually do sell it in the restaurant, and people were loving it, and coming back for seconds,” he said. “I want to come out and support the community, and as a business owner, they support us, so we want to give to them, for the fundraiser.”