Chili in the Campground

Jenny Scarborough

A Moroccan inspired venison chili earned the blue ribbon at Ocracoke Child Care's Chili Cook Off.

Katy, Jubal and Jon provided live entertainment.
Katy, Jubal and Jon provided live entertainment.

The competition was hot, and seasoned with friends of all ages. Ocracoke Station hosted the event, and seven island cooks set up tents, grills and tables in the campground. Katy Mitchell, Jon Lea and Jubal Creech provided live entertainment. Proceeds directly benefit Ocracoke's non-profit child care center, which plans to make it an annual event.

"It's so exciting. I think it's going to be huge next year because everyone had such a good time," said Karmen Layton, who volunteered at the door.

A modest $5 donation allowed guests to sample and vote for their favorite. Fess Winstead and assistant Brad Yeatman won the crowd vote for their "Deerlicious Redneck Chili." People were lined up for second helpings when I arrived at their table.

"I really don't have a recipe. I don't measure anything," said Fess, who shot and ground the deer himself. "I've put six [deer] in the freezer this winter, and gave others to people who don't hunt, but enjoy venison." He would have preferred to use bear meat, and is threatening to prepare a road kill chili featuring raccoon next year.

Crowd favorite chili (and cutest couple?) goes to Brad and Fess.
Crowd favorite chili (and cutest couple?) goes to Brad and Fess.
photo courtesy of Jennifer Esham Winstead

Fess and Brad used an "Atomic Wing Sauce" to add the heat. Other competitors dried and smoked fresh peppers for the event.

Scott MacNally and David Allewalt served up a "No Con'FESS'ion Chili" featuring pepper berry rubbed beef tenderloin, hot sausage and prunes. They added a skosh of Ocracoke brewing company Oak wood smoked IPA and floated nine chili peppers in their burbling pot before slicing them open.

Spiciest chili (and cutest couple?) goes to Dave and Scott.
Spiciest chili (and cutest couple?) goes to Dave and Scott.

"The name came about when Fess starting talking shit this morning," said Scott. Dave has entered about six chili cook offs before, and won two in Baltimore City. Their chili was rich and dark with a nutty sweetness, and packed a wallop of heat at the end.

"The heat makes you want another bite," said Dave. Their chili was awarded with honors for Spiciest.

All the chilis were different, and all of them were good.

Merle serving up Jubal's White Chili
Merle serving up Jubal's White Chili

"JJ's Meatless Vegetarian Chili" by Janille Turner had tons of cumin, bright kernels of corn for sweetness and texture, and was praised by Garick Kalna as "the most chili tasting veggie chili I've ever had."

As the only meatless option, it was the hands down favorite of vegetarian Jen Buday.

Most cooks said they were able to find their ingredients on the island. Thank goodness The Variety Store received a shipment of nice fresh cilantro recently, said Merle Davis, who was cutting the herb to serve atop her son Jubal's chili while he performed.

His "Chili Blanco" received my vote, with its bracing hint of citrus, earthy cumin notes, and--best of all--crunchy tortillas added as a garnish. Jubal advertised his recipe, which came from a Mormon friend: white kidney beans, chicken, corn, onion, garlic, oregano, lemon juice, green chilis, olive oil, lemon pepper, cumin, and green onion.

Though venison, which featured in both the crowd favorite and the winning entry by David Hilton and Garick Kalna, is not found on Ocracoke, "deer is just a part of the winter," noted Garick's wife, Jacqui. Their son Mac took down the deer that was brined and smoked by David and Garick, rubbed in Moroccan spices, and served with a whipped lime goat cheese, green onions, cilantro, and toasted pita chips.

Garick puts the finishing touches on his blue ribbon chili.
Garick puts the finishing touches on his blue ribbon chili.

A few other competitors scoffed with good nature about the beautiful presentation of the dish. Our chili doesn't need all those bells and whistles, said Marissa Gross and Janille.

Marissa ran out of her "Momma Sharon's Air National Guard Trophy Chili," which features chilis she dried, jalapenos she pickled, and tequila. She was one of two competitors flying solo.

"This is a 30 year recipe. I have beaten many fighter pilots with this chili," said Marissa, who used to compete in chili cook offs while studying in Arizona. As the Board Chair of the Ocracoke Child Care Center, people may have cried foul if Marissa's chili had taken home a prize at this event.

"Snowy Owl Chili" by Austin Lucas and Mike Keith claimed to be "local and sustainably sourced." It was awarded the prize for Best Non-Traditional Chili.

"Peter Vankevich wasn't able to find the snowy owl today," commented a tongue-in-cheek bystander.

And the winner is . . . TimBuk2 Chili by David and Garick. The bloody Mary bar hosted by wives Amy and Jacqui did not influence the judges.
And the winner is . . . TimBuk2 Chili by David and Garick. The bloody Mary bar hosted by wives Amy and Jacqui did not influence the judges.

It tasted like chicken. The pair smoked their protein, jalapeños, and tomatillos over wood chips from a retired Jack Daniels cask. The smoke added character, and the tomatillos lent their white bean chili a bright, fresh flavor. The subtle heat of the dish was amped up with a dollop of siracha sour cream.

Clay Lucas used a variety of chilis, ground beef, sausage and bacon with a surprising note of cinnamon to win the prize for Most Unique Chili, in his first ever chili cook off. He said he felt no pressure at all to compete from wife Kristen Lucas, who is Director of the Ocracoke Child Care. 

The judges were Zoe Tsaousis, Aaron Gallaher, Sandy Morris, Eduardo Chavez, and Kitty Hawk resident Tim Brodeur. Eduardo once worked in a Boston restaurant specializing in chili. He said the campground would be a great spot to host an event showcasing Mexican cuisine.

It was a difficult decision, said Sandy. The prizes awarded were donated by Ocracoke Kite Boarding, Thai Moon, Angie's Gym, Deep Blue Detailing, and Eduardo's.

"After we pick our favorite, do we get to have a big bowl of it?" asked Mary McKnight, who recently returned as Ocracoke School's Guidance Counselor.

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