Usually waves of heat are generated by racecars at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison. However, from September 28 – 30, the heat will be served in cups and bowls at the International Chili Society (ICS) World Championship of Chili Cook-Off. The first cook-off was put together in 1967 in Terlingua, Texas, by Carroll Shelby and several of his friends. It grew from a “good old boys” friendly competition to an event that now awards the title “World Champion” and combined prize money of more than $100,000!
A little history…Carroll Shelby was the first CEO of the ICS and served in that capacity until 2004. It’s fitting that the Chili Championship Cook-Off he founded is being held at Gateway Motorsports Park, since he was a noted automotive designer, race car driver and entrepreneur. Shelby is best known as the designer of innovative high-performance racing cars, notably the Shelby Cobra and the Ford GT40. He was also responsible for the reintroduction of several Mustang-based Shelby cars.
Now, back to the Chili…From October, 2017 to September, 2018, hundreds of ICS chili cooks (affectionately known as Chiliheads) from across the U.S. have been competing with their best recipes at WCCC Qualifier and Local cook-offs. Over 400 entries in Traditional Red Chili (no beans), Homestyle Chili (with beans), Chili Verde, Salsa and a special Youth Division will be at the World Championship event here, according to Scott Toland, CEO/President of ICS. There will also be a “Last Chance” Competition on Friday which the public may enter for a last chance to qualify to cook on championship weekend. That cook-off is not open to spectators – only to those wishing to cook. Check the website for details.
The public is invited on Saturday and Sunday for two days of chili and beer tastings (40 specialty beers), live entertainment, vendors, a large professional and amateur 2-day Mid-West Cornhole Tournament sponsored by the American Cornhole Organization, a special Restaurant Chili Competition and a Firehouse Chili Competition. “We expect attendance to approach 15,000,” Toland said. “This may increase when the music acts are announced.” Odds are this number will grow in the future as Toland added, “We are planning for the World Championship Chili Cook-off to be held at Gateway for years to come.”
There is another aspect of ICS Chili, Inc. and the cook-offs that elevates this to much more than just a food competition. According to chilicookoff.com, “Our mission is to continuously improve and enjoy chili while raising money for charities and non-profits year-round. Each year thousands of chiliheads hold cook-offs to raise money for hundreds of charities! Close to $100 MILLION has been raised and donated to date.” Check out the website to see some of the non-profits that have benefitted from these donations.
This article was originally published in the 2018 Fall Tourism Times.