|Barbara Ward, right, and chili cook off event organizer Susie Baumberger visit with Ward’s husband, Charlie, during Saturday’s final round outside the CasaBlanca Event Center.
MESQUITE, Nev. -- With an estimated 30 competitors from Nevada, California, Illinois, Idaho, Arizona, Colorado and Utah competing in the High Desert Robinson Regional & Mojave Desert Regional on the grounds of the CasaBlanca Resort, there was no shortage of color and aroma.
And judging by what took place during the competition Nov. 25-26, everyone is happy with the final result. Competing Chiliheads along with the crowds will not forget the days spent in ideal weather conditions on the grounds of the CasaBlanca.
For Baumberger, the challenges of running an event are certainly rewarding, but the fun of competing is her first love.
Personable Charlie Ward, who turns 79 in December, had his first chili cook off more than 28 years ago.
“My neighbor in Newport Beach talked me into entering,” laughed Ward, who has won national titles in both Mexico and Canada during his long run in the chili cook off business. “I finished second in my first cook off and was hooked.
Charlie won the salsa competition the first day while Barbara captured the title the final day in what may be a great example of a husband and wife team working closely together for the mutual benefit of both.
The People’s Choice element of the event sponsored by the Lancaster Rotary to support the global Children’s Literacy Project generated a two-day total of $1,400. The winning cook, Charles Harber of Fresno, Calif., captured the People’s Choice award both days to win nearly $700 and walked away with more money than any other cook.
“We have already started putting next year’s event together,” she said. “Our cooks really enjoyed themselves and I think word will spread about how much fun everyone had here. This is a chili paradise in the desert and we love coming here.
Among the top competitors who headed to Mesquite were Arizona resident and International Chili Society blog writer Dick Swenberger, who came in second in the world in 2010 at Manchester, N.H. was there; and Littleton, Colorado’s Kathy Plager – the 1995 Red World Champion (worth $25,000); along with Bakersfield, California’s Jim Beatty, the 1986 world champion and the winningest cook in ICS history.
“We then go out Friday and Saturday and cook against each other. We’ll have dinner and drinks together the night after the cook off to tell lies as to why we haven’t won. We will see each other within the next two or three weeks cooking again.”
“This was a very good event,” said Plager, 54, retired from a swimming pool maintenance business in Dallas, Tex. “I keep coming back to Mesquite because on the backend I know the judging is being run honestly and fairly. I run 12 cookoffs a year in Colorado and other states and it’s very important for me to know the people running the cookoff are doing it properly. From the chief judge and scorekeeper to the rest, this is very well run event.”
“Prunes make the chili a little sweeter and gives the gravy a beautiful gloss,” he said. “Presentation is part of the whole package. If it looks good, it should taste good. I’m the king of prunes.”
Swenberger’s wife, Nancy, made the trek even though she’s currently undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.
One member ICS staff – Donnie Gordon – who is the chief scorekeeper of the world and served as the head scorekeeper in last weekend’s cookoff – has faced her own challenges.
First-day winners in the High Desert Robinson Regional included Charlie Ward, Rosamond, Calif., first place Salsa; Skip Cooley, Reno, second place Salsa, Verde and Red; Jim Beatty, Bakersfield, Calif., first place Chili Verde; Charlie Blosfield, Southern California, third place Red Chili; Al Henry, Littleton, Colo., first place Red Chili.
Red Chili winners included Mark Haught, Pahrump, Nev.; Charlie Blosfield, Riverside, Calif., second place; Skip Cooley, third place.
Further information regarding future chili cookoffs can be found at <span style="Courier New" "="">www.chilicookoff.com; or www.mesquitechili.com; or by calling Michele Yegge Evans of Mesquite Gaming at 888-711-4653, ext. 14.