By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
WYANDOTTE – Each thick, savory spoonful of chili served up Feb. 27 during the Wyandotte service groups’ inaugural chili cookoff were quickly claimed by attendees, who enjoyed the food, fellowship and raffles.
Held at the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America Hall, 1430 Oak St., the event featured succulent servings, a disc jockey, numerous raffle prizes and a chance for the city’s service groups to work together while networking and forming friendships.
The first-place chili was prepared by Brian Martin, post commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1136, with Lisa Braden of VFW Post 1136 taking second place.
The Wyandotte Fire Department entry took third place, while the Fraternal Order of Police earned the People’s Choice award.
City Council President and event organizer Kelly Stec, who said about 250 admission tickets were sold, said the chili cookoff exceeded her expectations.
“We all set out in just the hopes of being able to increase communication and work together better as clubs, and I really couldn’t have asked for a better turnout on a Sunday afternoon,” she said. “I’m so happy with how supportive and generous this community consistently is.”
Stec said they had pulled in more than $1,000 for the grand raffle, which she said is beneficial for Wyandotte’s clubs and non-profit community.
She said the groups will be collaborating on the veterans banner project with the city and veteran service organizations.
Stec said the veterans banner project will recognize those with a connection to Wyandotte who have served in the armed forces.
“We want to ensure, as the non-profits, that no gold star or active-duty families have to pay for their own banner,” she said. “The city and our groups are coming together to provide them with the recognition they deserve for the work that they are doing.”
Stec said they hope to have about 200 banners throughout the Downtown Development Authority district.
She said the chili cookoff left her “overwhelmed and overjoyed.”
“I am really, really grateful for all of this and all of these people because – from the bottom of my heart – it couldn’t have happened without every single person,” she said.
“Every person who spent hours and hours in planning meetings, every person who has been here since this morning, setting up this hall and ensuring that things went smoothly, and the expertise of clubs who have run official, international chili society competitions in the past, providing the expertise for our judges – this is what Wyandotte really is – the community coming together as one to support each other.”
Stec said as the pandemic wanes, she believes the groups will emerge stronger and more united than they were before.
She said each participating organization donated raffle prizes, as well as the material used to run the chili cookoff.
“Wyandotte’s non-profit community continues to thrive and be stronger together,” Stec said. “We are really hoping this is the ‘first annual’ and it continues to grow.”
She said if any Wyandotte clubs are interested in participating in the chili cookoff next year, or other events, contact her at [email protected]
City Councilmember and chili judge Robert Alderman said all 17 chilis he sampled were “fantastic.”
“We’ve got from spicy to chicken to smooth – they are all very good,” he said. “I wish I could cook like some of these people.”
Pointing to the crowd of satisfied attendees, Alderman said he shared Stec’s hope that the chili cookoff becomes an annual event.
“This is a great time,” he said. “Look at all these people. They’re all smiling.”
City Councilman and chili judge Todd Hanna said it was his first time as an adjudicator, and he was enjoying it.
“I’ve had some spicy chili, some soupy chili, some meaty chili – it’s all been great,” he said. “I love chili.”
Hanna said it was great to see a large turnout to support the clubs.
Police Chief and chili judge Brian Zalewski agreed that the entries “were all delicious.”
“People did a great job, and I am stuffed to the gills,” he said. “To do this for 17 chilis, you got to kind of pace yourself. I was eating too many spoonfuls in the beginning.”
City Treasurer and chili judge Todd Browning concurred that all of the chili flavors were delicious.
“It was tough to judge,” he said.
Browning said his criteria for the winning entries includes the initial taste and the aftertaste.
“Maybe they can have a brownie contest next month,” he said with a grin.
Browning said he was glad to see the camaraderie that the chili cookoff created.
“COVID kind of tied our hands for a long time,” he said. “Wyandotte is a community, and we like to get together, we like our festivals, and PRCU does a great job of inviting people and getting people together. It refreshes my heart.”
City Councilmember Rosmary Shuryan said it was fun to be serving chili to attendees.
“We are having a great time, and it’s for a good cause, too, so we are glad that all the different non-profits could come together,” she said.
Shuryan said the volunteers did not know who made the chili they were serving.
Attendee Jean Pilon said she was thrilled to attend the chili cookoff.
“This is the first big civic event that we have attended since COVID, and I think this is absolutely the way to do this,” she said. “It’s been fun, a good competition and great food.”