By Riley Manning
TUPELO – The weather was almost too hot for chili Friday afternoon at the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association’s 14th annual Chili Fest, but that didn’t stop a few hundred patrons from filling their bowls with the stuff and piling on the cheese.
“We probably had 100 or so come through between noon and 1,” said Chili Fest volunteer Rudy Young. “I didn’t expect much of a crowd for lunch.”
While the chili concocted by the various teams were not presented until the dinner portion of the event, patrons did get to tease their taste buds with Jim Bean’s chili and fixins for lunch.
“People love chili because it’s comfort food,” said Derek Russell, of the Link Centre’s chili team, their booth themed after the popular AMC television show “Breaking Bad.”
“This year, we’re keeping our recipe top secret.”
When the teams finally came out with their chili at 5 p.m., some of their costumes were as unique as their recipes. Hospice Advantage of Tupelo themed its booth after the rock band Kiss, complete with its own fully-dressed Gene Simmons.
“We went with Kiss because we’re rock stars for our patients,” said chili chef Brad Rickels. “People get so into chili because you can just throw anything in it.”
This year was only Hospice Advantage’s second year to compete, and made a strong showing in 2012, placing second.
In the opposite booth, Tupelo Parks and Recreation flashed back to the ’70s with platform shoes and a disco light. Leigh Ann Mattox said their recipe was voted among other recipes in their office to represent them at the Chili Fest.
“Ours is thick with a lot of ground meat, but what really makes it taste good is the tomatoes and peppers in it are home-grown,” she said. “The fun thing about making chili is it never tastes the same twice.”
Chili, it seems, is becoming the new form of self-expression.
Other contenders used their chili to sport a regional flare, like Jed Duke, of Jed’s Gumtree Cafe, and his spicy Southern chili.
“Last year we used a longhorn and buffalo recipe, but this year we went a little more traditional,” he said. “We try to have fun, do something different every year.”
Mark Hinton of the Community Bank team agreed. His Louisiana-inspired chili even came with a hushpuppy.
“You can never predict what people are going to like,” he said. “But this chili’s got shrimp, crawfish, and sausage in it, ragin’ Cajun style.”