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Chili cook off brings creative, passionate cooks to Asheboro

Posted on 03/31/09

ASHEBORO, NC - Even though the Asheboro Chili Cookoff is giving away $1,500 to the lucky winner, the money isn't what has pulled more than 40 cooks to the event. They just want to have fun at the town's newest street festival.

The event will be held on Saturday, April 18 from 1-10 p.m. in downtown Asheboro. The event will include musical entertainment, a Kid's Zone, a Hot Head Contest and lots of tasting. The winner of a raffle drawing will go home with either $8,000 or up to $1,000 a month mortgage payment for a year.

The slate of cookers ranges from novices who like to cook a pot of chili for their family - to award-winning contestants - to professional chefs. The common ingredient is they all have a passion for cooking. And when any of them throw a dinner party, they never get turned down.

Most have been testing their recipes - thus sparking more fun at home. Paul Stephanacci, of Asheboro, N.C., says the contest has become a family project. His wife, Robin, his mother, Ruth, four children and their spouses have been helping out. "Our chili is going to include the kitchen sink if I can get it in there," he chuckled. This is his first chili cook-off, but with his neighbors, family and friends, he's already a winner. "We've had rave reviews on our dry runs." With strong Italian heritage, Stephanacci joked "Even the Pope called wanting the recipe, but I had to turn him down!"

Neal Allen, from Asheboro, explained "I'm a scientist and an artist in the kitchen. I love creating flavors and making blends. I love experimenting."

He's a graduate from the Baltimore International Culinary College and works at Jugtown Café in Seagrove, N.C. Like the internationally-renowned Seagrove potters who masterfully create glazes for their pots, Allen works with starches, sugars and complex compounds in food. And old family recipes. Part of his creation is based upon a Southwestern recipe from the 1800s. His chili has won awards at other contests.

The team of Don Johnson and Ricky Jordan, from Asheboro, have won awards for their barbecue, but this is the first time they've entered a chili contest. Regionally, they're known for their ‘Q at the Pinehurst Relay for Life. "But we wanted to do something different," said Johnson. An avid gardener, his recipe will include preserved produce from his ½-acre garden. "I canned my tomatoes myself, so they have little salt and no preservatives. They're healthy."

"Our natural grass-fed beef will come from three local farms, said Jordan. Their team is called "Country Cooking," but will be serving "Caraway Fire Chili."

Ashlee and James Edwards, owners of "Off-the-Square" restaurant in downtown Albemarle, are blending North Carolina and Texas tastes. "I'm from Texas," said Ashlee. "You know, we are proud of our food and Texas beef chili. But my husband is from Asheboro, and he knows all about pork barbecue. So our chili will be a blend of both."

With a combined 22 years of restaurant experience, the couple has learned from one another about cooking. Ashlee reflected "He graduated from the Cordon Bleu School of Culinary Arts and taught me some technical tricks in the kitchen. But I tend to be more spontaneous. So on the chili cookoff day, he'll be tending the meat. But when he turns away, I'll add a little more spice to it!"

"Mine will be a creative masterpiece," says Joel Leonard, of Asheboro. Songwriter, professional writer and host of www.SkillTV.net, he just bought a new grill for the event. He's been testing various recipes, one with beef marinated in Frangelica, a hazelnut-flavored liquor and beans soaked in Belgian beer. "Oh, the meat was absolutely delicious," he commented. "But I'm still working on the right blend."

Tourism writer and consultant Greta Lint says her research indicates the primary reason people attend a chili cook-off is for the chili. "It tugs at our curiosity - what will it taste like? Hot? Mild? Sweet? The anticipation is a common denominator that pulls us all together."

For more information, log onto www.AsheboroChiliCookoff.com or call organizer Bryan Vaughan at 336-302-4968.

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