By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The smell of spicy chili hung heavy in the air Thursday at the 12th annual Chili Fest in Tupelo.
The event drew 34 teams to the downtown area to compete for 10 prizes and bragging rights to the best chili in town.
“They’re all competing for the ‘Make Ya Wanna Slap Your Mama Good!’ and the People’s Choice,” awards, said Debbie Brangenberg, executive director of the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association.
From 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., festival-goers dined on chili from Bar-B-Q by Jim and listened to Vinnie C. play the blues on his guitar. From 5 to 10 p.m., Jim served chili again, but folks also got to sample and vote for the different recipes from the teams who competed. FoShorchestra provided the evening’s entertainment.
More than 300 turned out for the lunchtime event, with another 1,000 expected in the evening.
“It’s a different crowd at noon than at night,” Brangenberg said. “We weren’t expecting this many at lunch. They’re telling me we’re out of tickets at the gate, so that means we’ve already sold 300 and it’s just noon. I’m going to have to start recycling tickets now.”
Several teams competing this year were first-time participants, like the Rotary Club of Tupelo.
“We’re trying to have more of a presence in the community,” said Julianne Goodwin, president of the club, which has about 150 members in Tupelo. “We’re the oldest and the largest service organization in the world.”
The Rotary Road Hogs cooked up some Wild Wolfe Chili, courtesy of a recipe provided by Rotarian Diane Wolfe.
“It’s a Texas chili and she’s a native of Texas,” Goodwin said.
The Salvation Army also had a tent set up this year for the first time.
“We wanted to raise the visibility of The Salvation Army as a group that’s involved in the community,” said Tom Wicker, a member of the advisory board.
The group’s theme was “Chillin’ For All Seasons,” and the tent was decorated with seasonal decorations, like Easter eggs, a Christmas tree, a beach sand pail, a football and Halloween pumpkins.
Melissa Kilgore of Kilgore’s Photography was another newcomer.
“I’ve done some volunteer photography for the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association and I just decided I wanted to be a part of it this year,” she said. “We’re cooking Bombshell Chili, a vegetarian verde chili, very spicy and made from scratch. It took us, like, four hours or something to make it.”
• Crowd Favorite (People’s Choice): Backwoods Chili – Bel-Air Golf Course
• Make Ya Wanna Slap Your Mama Good! (1st Place): Chitty Dhitty Bang Bang with special guest Doo-Wop Chili – Merchants & Farmers Bank
• Better Luck Next Year (2nd Place): Have Chili Will Travel – TeleSouth Communications
• Serve It Up Right (Best Presentation): Chili Vanelli – Rogers Real Estate & Appraisal
• Everything but the Kitchen Sink (Most Original Recipe): Bomshell Chili – Killgore’s Photography
• Mystifying Oomph (Most Unique Taste): Wild Wild Salon West – Salon West
• Rowdiest Cooks! (Best Team Spirit): National Lampoon’s Chili Disaster – Tupelo Park & Recreation
• Sauciest Get-Up! (Best Costumes): Bomshell Chili – Killgore’s Photography
• Most ‘Souped’ Up Kitchen (Most Creative Tent): Paint by Number Chili – GumTree Museum of Art
• Supreme Scheme (Most Original Theme): Backwoods Chili – Bel-Air Golf Course.