Dining With Denise Neil

City, county to join forces at Wagonmasters Chili Cookoff

Jeff Mitchell, right, and Regan Sangster of Beran Concrete were among the competitors at the 2014 Wagonmasters Downtown Chili Cookoff.
Jeff Mitchell, right, and Regan Sangster of Beran Concrete were among the competitors at the 2014 Wagonmasters Downtown Chili Cookoff. File photo

City and county leaders haven’t been the closest of allies this year, especially when it comes to their disagreements over budgeting.

But Wichita City Council members and Sedgwick County commissioners will put their differences aside this weekend in the name of chili.

Members of the two governing bodies have agreed to form a single team that will compete in Saturday’s annual Wichita Wagonmasters Downtown Chili Cookoff. They’re calling it the City/County Chili Cooperative, and Bryan Frye and Jeff Blubaugh from the City Council along with Karl Peterjohn, Tim Norton and Richard Ranzau from the county commission are expected to participate. Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell is serving as the cookoff’s ceremonial figurehead, known as the “potentate.”

“That’s how incredible our chili cookoff is,” said Bill Ramsey, a Wagonmaster who is serving as the chairman of the event. “It brought the city and county together.”

The 32nd annual festival will open at noon on Saturday, and attendees who buy $5 tasting kits will be able to sample chili prepared by serious competitors vying for a spot in the World Championship Chili Cookoff next month in Reno as well as less-serious groups of co-workers or friends cooking for fun. Competitors produce chili in a variety of categories, from no beans to green to red, and there’s also a salsa competition and an award for the team with the booth that exhibits the most chili spirit. Each category winner will earn a cash prize.

Ramsey said team registration is up and could rise above 70 competitors, which would make this year’s chili cookoff the biggest one yet.

“Word of mouth is getting out about how much fun it is to be a part of this in any way,” Ramsey said.

Attendees who purchase a kit can sample the competing chilis and vote for the best. They’ll also get one full bowl of chili plus all the fixings prepared by the Wichita Wagonmasters. (The Wagonmasters are a group of local businessmen who help promote Wichita and organize charity events throughout the year.)

In past years, the Wagonmasters have set up their serving tent in the old Spaghetti Works parking lot, which is on the edge of the action. People complained that they couldn’t find it, though, and since the Wagonmasters serve the only substantial bowl of chili attendees get, it was an issue that needed addressing, Ramsey said. This year, the Wagonmasters tent will be in the center of all the tasting booths, making it impossible to miss.

People also can watch or participate in several contests, including a pepper-eating contest, “Mr. Hot Stuff” and “Ms. Chili Pepper.” They also can listen to live music from popular local band Annie Up, eat free ice cream and buy and sip beer within the boundaries of the festival.

Another addition: The festival will have a Boeing KC46 Tanker Simulator on site, which will be set up at the corner of Emporia and Douglas. People can see what it would be like to fuel another plane using the simulator, and there’s no charge to try it, Ramsey said.

Among the cookoff participants will be several local restaurants, who will complete for a traveling restaurant trophy that spent the past year at Public at the Brickyard. The restaurants signed up to complete this year are The Monarch, GreenAcres, The Candle Club, Emerson Biggin’s, Intrust Bank Arena and The Anchor. (Emerson Biggin’s was the grand champion of the entire event in 2014.)

Several local charities also have signed up and will complete against each other for special trophies.

Ramsey said the cookoff drew 12,000 people last year.

Reach Denise Neil at 316-268-6327 or dneil@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @deniseneil.

If You Go

Wichita Wagonmasters Downtown Chili Cookoff

What: An annual chili competition that includes a public tasting, beer garden and contests

Where: East Douglas between St. Francis and the railroad tracks

When: Public tasting starts at noon.

How much: Admission is free, but tasting kits are $5 a person.

Information: wagonmasterschili.com