Military holds line in chili cook-off

October 03, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- The military held the high ground in Saturday's chili cook-off contest in Martinsburg aiming such bombastic recipes as Jarhead and Combat at the competition.

Tamsen Molenda, in her tent across Queen Street, fought back with her own concoction, a three-generation recipe handed down from her late grandmother, Bess Podelco, and mother, Jenevieve Farmer.

"It's sweet, not spicy," Molenda, of Martinsburg, said of her family's traditional delicacy.

The contestants were among 22 chili cookers competing in the fifth annual cook-off sponsored by Main Street Martinsburg.

Randy Lewis, Main Street's executive director, said the cook-off wraps up a series of downtown promotional events throughout the summer. The next event will be the Snowflake Festival that ushers in the Christmas season.

The cook-off was held in conjunction with the downtown scarecrow contest that featured 68 ghoulish figures affixed to streetlight poles along Queen and King streets.


Like the chili competition, those creations were also judged Saturday.

Moving back across Queen Street from Molenda's tent, Staff Sgt. Kelvin of the 157th Military Police Co., West Virginia National Guard in Martinsburg, was touting his beanless, cubed beef, Combat Chili.

The recipe won the coveted People's Choice award twice, the last time in 2007, he said. He was hoping to reprise those wins this year, but he faced some fierce competition from the tent next door. Holding the line there were members of VFW Post 896 in Martinsburg.

Last year, post chili chef Cody Bell's recipe won three first-place trophies -- People's Choice, Best All Around and Celebrity Judging.

"This year's recipe is the same as last year's with a little more spice," Bell said. Last year, he cooked five gallons. This year, he cooked eight gallons.

Darin Grim of Sharpsburg manned the USMC tent across the street and its signature Jarhead Chili.

Jutting out of cups on Grim's table were habanero and jalapeno peppers from his garden, key ingredients that came through in the first bite.

"It's not just hot. It's got good flavor," Grim bragged to a patron as he poured a spoonful of his chili into her sample cup.

Grim ties the recipe's roots to the late 1970s when he and his fellow Marines were on field exercises, including chow time.

"We just combined everything we had, added hot stuff and cooked it in our helmets," he said.

The section of Queen Street blocked off for the cook-off was crowded with people moving from tent to tent, talking to the chefs about their culinary inventions and holding out cups for samples.

Many carried bottled water, soda or beer to cool down their mouths after a particularly burning spoonful.

Members of the local Democratic party were dishing out red, white and blue chicken chili under their tent. The white came from chicken, and the red and blue from colored taco chips.

"We've never won, but we're working on it," said an optimistic Rosalie Bernick.

Music for the cook-off was provided by Solid Ground and Smooth Cat Burglar.

Cookoff winners

Winners in Saturday's Main Street Martinsburg Chili Cook-off:

People's Choice

First place -- Jarhead Chili

Second place -- Veterans Chili

Third place -- Chico's Sweet Meat Chili

Celebrity Judging

First place -- Red, White and Blue Chili

Second place -- Goldilocks and the Three Berkeley Count Wildcats Cheerleaders Chili

Third place -- Blood Chili

Best All Around

Jarhead Chili

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