Dining With Denise Neil

Wichita chili cookoff winners take home trophy on first try

Meritrust Credit Union won the grand champion trophy at the Wichita Wagonmaster’s Downtown Chili Cookoff on its first try. Pictured here are, from left to right, team members Kathy Manivanh, Sydney Jolicoeur, Tammy Taylor and Jeanize Cilliers.
Meritrust Credit Union won the grand champion trophy at the Wichita Wagonmaster’s Downtown Chili Cookoff on its first try. Pictured here are, from left to right, team members Kathy Manivanh, Sydney Jolicoeur, Tammy Taylor and Jeanize Cilliers. Meritrust Credit Union

The woman who came up with the grand championship chili recipe at Saturday’s Wichita Wagonmaster’s Downtown Chili Cookoff was home sick in bed with a fever when the winner was announced.

And her teammates, who spent the day serving her sweet-and-spicy concoction to the masses – and to the impressed judges – didn’t even hear their name called. They were busy tearing down their tent in the rain and the wind that had moved in.

On Monday, the Grand Championship chili team from Meritrust Credit Union still weren’t sure they could believe it.

“We were very excited and stoked and kind of in shock,” said Tammy Taylor, who led the Meritrust team.

This was the first time Meritrust had ever entered the chili cookoff, which has been running for 33 years. A board member was urged by a Wagonmaster (and credit union member) to get involved, and Taylor, the director of market development, was urged to get a team going.

She put on an internal chili cookoff to find the best chili. Meritrust chili judges decided that Michelle Presnell, a members service representative and seasoned home cook, had the winning recipe.

“It had a sweet taste with a tangy cayenne after burn,” Taylor said. “You got the sweet and then the spice.”

The team chose a toxic theme for its booth. Each one dressed in a Hazmat suit, and decorations included gas masks and barrels of neon green toxic sludge.

The event was fun, but Presnell was sick, and the rain and wind made things crazy. When Taylor finally got home, she contacted the head of the chili contest to find out if results had been posted yet.

That’s when he shared the news.

“We kind of thought we might come home with second or third or even the theme trophy,” Taylor said. “We had no clue that the team would come home with grand championship.”

The team unseated Security 1st Title, who won last year with a “Star Wars” themed booth and chili recipe. Meritrust’s name will be added to the giant traveling trophy.

They’re already planning how to defend their title.

“There’s high excitement about what’s going to happen next year,” Taylor said.

A few other notable results from the chili cookoff:

▪ Wichita Festivals Inc., the group that puts on the Wichita River Festival, won the trophy for best booth and for best team spirit with an Old West themed-booth. They also took home the second-place prize in the “Chili for Charity” category.

▪ Savor, which is Intrust Bank Arena’s culinary team lead by Chef Ben George, won both the People’s Choice and the green chili award.

▪ The brand new restaurant trophy went to The Diamond Plate, a local food truck. The 2014 grand champion, Emerson Biggins, came in second.

▪ The team from the Kansas Star Casino won the “anything goes” chili championship.

▪ Meritrust also placed second in the “No Beans” category.

Here’s a complete list of winners.

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