Good chili is not made in haste.
And prize-winning chili takes even longer.
That’s why contestants in St. Ambrose Catholic School’s annual chili cook-off got an early start Saturday — in some cases, as many as nine hours before the big event.
“We’ve been here since 8 o’clock this morning to get it just right,” Danielle Hamilton said of her team’s campfire chili recipe.
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The event was conducted at the Knights of Columbus on East Second Street in downtown Seymour and was open to the public.
Eleven teams put together their best and most creative efforts for the contest.
Other entries included a southwest black bean chili, mole chipotle chicken chili, chicken jalapeño popper chili and a spicy pork chili.
In its fourth year, the competition continues to be St. Ambrose’s biggest fundraiser.
“We budgeted to bring in about $10,000,” said Dave Eggers, who helps organize the event.
Besides the chili cook-off, there also was a reverse raffle for $7,250 in cash prizes and a silent auction of donated items including Indianapolis Colts merchandise and IU basketball tickets.
All proceeds from ticket sales, entry fees, auction items, raffles and donations go to boost the school’s general operations fund.
Past cook-offs have helped purchase new playground equipment and computers, Eggers said.
The long hours of cooking paid off for Hamilton and teammates Ashley and Bridget Garlick, as they won over a panel of celebrity judges to be named judges’ favorite.
Although it was a tough call to make, judge Joe Staysniak said the campfire chili stood out among the competition. The celebrity judge is a former Indianapolis Colts offensive lineman turned sports radio talk show host.
“It’s got a very distinct smoky flavor, but it’s sweet too,” Staysniak said. “It’s the perfect combination.”
He also liked the teams’ camping/picnic presentation, complete with a red and white checkered table cloth and campfire flame.
Ashley Garlick said the key to the sweet, but hearty, taste of their entry was a secret ingredient she wasn’t about to reveal.
“And you’ve got to let it simmer a long time,” she said.
It also helped that along with their chili, the team provided ingredients to make your own s’mores to go along with their campfire theme.
“It’s all about presentation,” Ashley Garlick said.
“If you close your eyes, it reminds of you being at a real campfire,” Hamilton added.
This wasn’t the team’s first big win in the chili cook-off.
“We got second last year in the People’s Choice category,” Ashley Garlick said.
The People’s Choice award allows those attending the event to vote for their favorite with cash tips.
This year’s crowd favorite was Jess and Mark Hancock’s filet mignon and Guinness chili, which earned $408.
A total of $840 was raised in votes from all 11 entries. That money also went to the school.
“We made a white chicken chili one year, but people really seem to like this one, so we’ve stuck with this recipe,” Mark Hancock said.
Jess Hancock said the combination of filet mignon and Guinness beer give the chili a sophisticated and adult taste.
Jess said she even hand-grated the cheese for that extra personal touch.
She and Mark were happy to be the public’s favorite but said they don’t enter the competition for the accolades.
“It’s just an excellent fundraiser, and we always do what we can to help out St. Ambrose,” he said.