Chili Cookoff a hot event in Martinsburg

July 16, 2006|by TARA REILLY


One stand resembled an old wooden shack.

Boxer shorts and a tank top hung from clotheslines strung across the small porch. Its dacor consisted of a fake wild turkey, a stuffed fox and animal skulls.

The sign in front read "Hillbilly Chili."

Judging from the menu, maybe they weren't kidding.

Rob Arensberg and Bob Hornbaker of Martinsburg served samples of homemade venison and buffalo chili.

Wearing camouflage shorts and a tank top, Arensberg enticed participants in the second annual Main Street Martinsburg's Chili Cookoff to eat like a hillbilly.

"It's good. It's hot," said Cindy Strakal of Martinsburg after eating samples.

"Smokin'," said Daryl Kuster of Berkeley County.

Strakal, who was glad she brought a bottle of water, said that the venison chili was hotter than the buffalo chili.


"Yep," Arensberg said.

"Now, you tell us," Kuster said.

Later, Arensberg said Hillbilly Chili consisted of "just regular guys out here having fun."

It also brought home two awards - Best Booth and the People's Choice Award in the best-tasting chili category.

More than two dozen competitors participated in the cook-off, which was along Queen Street in downtown Martinsburg.

Several blocks of the street were closed to vehicles during the event.

Winners of the other categories were The Strand, which was voted first place by celebrity judges, and the Red Cross, which received the second-place award.

Josh Baker, program manager for Main Street Martinsburg, said proceeds from the cook-off would benefit downtown revitalization efforts.

Spectators paid $5 each to sample chili, and winners in several different categories were to be named at the event's end.

About 30 minutes into the cook-off, more than 100 people already had paid their admission fee and began to move from chili sample to chili sample, Baker said.

"We like chili. It's a hot day," said Charlene Elins of Martinsburg, who walked Queen Street with Sharon Flick.

Elins and Flick said the chili they had sampled was good, and they were looking forward to stopping by the other booths.

Mike Ownby, who has been cooking chili for himself since he was a kid, decided to enter his recipe this year.

Ownby said his chili contains the "usual ingredients," but that he was keeping the spices a secret.

"I've gotten a good reaction so far," Ownby said. "I can't complain."

"I like the concept," Joan Martin said of the cook-off. "We don't have anything like this where I'm from in Pa."

Martin, of Lancaster County, Pa., attended the cook-off with her son-in-law, Dave McDonald, of Martinsburg.

They joked about their different tastes in chili.

For one of the samples, "My comment was 'Yuck,' and she thought it was the best one so far," McDonald said.

"It was creative, and that appealed to me," Martin said.

Both hoped to sample chili from every booth. They said they weren't worried about getting full.

"I'll make it around," McDonald said.

Martin said she was observing how chili vendors presented their food, and that she is considering entering her own chili next year.

"If I tweak it a little, I think we might give them a run for their money next year," she said.

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