The annual Chili Cook-Off in Five Points is invariably one of the year's most enjoyable events. We know this must be true, since we read it online. Actually, now that we think of it, we wrote that online, and recounted our adventures participating in the judging for last year's event. So we're absolutely stoked to be taking part again this year on this coming Saturday, November 8.
This is in fact the 28th Annual Chili Cook-Off, an event originally started by Group Therapy, and now coordinated by the Five Points Association. Activities still take place in and around in and around the 2100 block of Greene Street in between Group and the Five Points Post Office, although following last year's successful expansion, the festival footprint this year will cover the 2100 and 2200 block of Greene Street, the 700 and 800 block of Pavillion (which is that cross street next to the park) a portion of Martin Luther King Park. Meaning more elbow room for the chefs, more walking around room for patrons, and less congestion closer to Harden Street. There's an official entrance - although thankfully, you can still pretty much wander on in from any direction - on Pavillion, close to the intersection with Santee (which is basically behind Harper's, near the Bank of America.) The bandstand now faces away from Harden and in towards the festival, in between Pour House (aka "where the old Frank's Hot Dogs used to be") and Grilled Teriyaki.
As always, the main attraction is the chili, as more than 50 teams compete with their best secret recipes, fixin's, and showmanship skills. All proceeds from the event (including including sales from chili, beer and merchandise) will go to Camp Kemo. The festival will run from 12 PM to 7 PM, and is free and open to the public. A donation of a dollar or more to a particular team will get you a taste of their chili, and the idea is that you sample as many as you can, thereby helping raise more funds. New this year are change stations - like certain other establishments in town, you're encouraged to come with a pocketful of one dollar bills, but there will be two change stations if you need more, as well as ATM's (although the latter will only dispense $5 bills.)
Meanwhile, a panel of judges, many of whom have participated for multiple years (see the Jasper account linked above for details) will sample every single cotton-pickin' one of the chilis, with awards given for: Overall Best Chili, Best Vegetarian, Best Texas Chili, Best Non-Traditional, Overall Best Set-Up, Best Bar/Restaurant and Best Fundraising.
Joseph Lemmons is the designer of the logo pictured above, and he's not just a promoter, he's a competitor too, as leader of the Blazing Saddles Chili Company cooking team. "We honestly just wanted to get together and cook chili and drink beers," he explains. "This was an excuse to organize around that idea and raise some money for a bunch of great kids." Lemmons shared the photos below from last year's event, and also described a little of his experiences, and all the preparation that goes into the competition.
"Our team is a young team — last year was our first year, but we jumped right into the fire, so-to-speak. We’re all friends and at one time or another have been work colleagues. We wanted to do so much our first year, had high hopes (because our chili is the best, of course), and a lot of support from team members and some awesome sponsors. From the start, I think our three chefs knew we wanted to be different, but not weird — so that meant a Texas-style hot and spicy chili. Bobby Redfern, Josh Laney, and myself worked through the recipe last summer and fall, subjecting co-workers and family to untold amounts of hot, spicy, beanless goodness. Once we nailed down the recipe and realized it had so much pricey meat in it, we had to find someone to help pay for it all — each of the 8 team members chipped in some cash and a few of us went out and found some sponsors (contributing cash, food supplies, cooking supplies and swag.) We were very fortunate to make a big splash our first year."
"Our chili was very hot and we had a pepper jelly sour cream topping to balance. And cheese because cheese. We felt like we were giving a good bang-for-your-buck-donation — a team member also made cayenne chocolate cookies that we sold and later gave away. That’s our general idea, to give more than just a cup of chili: something to top it with, something crunchy, a spicy sweet treat, a bunch of laughs. It’s all fun."
"To help separate our team, we came up with a tongue-in-cheek name that we could play on every year, thus Blazing Saddles Chili Company was born. We made custom printed shirts, aprons, a tent banner, tent signs and some social media noise. We were as much a Chili Company as we were actors in Blazing Saddles, but that didn’t stop people from thinking it unfair that we were a Chili Company competing in the Cook-Off. Made for a good laugh, honestly."
"For this year, we aren’t changing much. The response to our recipe was outstanding last year — we sold out of 10+ gallons in less than two hours (I believe we were the first to completely sell out)… so maybe we’ll make more this year. We’ve tweaked our recipe, but haven’t strayed from what made it successful. There will be toppings and sweets again. Ours will always be $1 donation per cup. We believe our recipe is unique and super tasty; the rest will be on the judges."
"Excuse us while we whip this out. Our chili is hot, delicious and it’s our second year in the competition with our secret Dutch recipe. Each bite is full of meaty goodness, a little pulled pork, a little fresh smokey beef, a little heat and a little sweet. Get it while it lasts, because our chili is rapidly becoming a success in this town and a single cup will bring tears to your eyes, delight to your tastebuds and light fire to your loins.”
Beer is an important part of the event as well. In addition to the usual suspects, featured in this year's Gourmet Beer Garden this year are five craft beers: Shocktop Pumpkin Wheat (if you like Shocktop, this isn't a bad taste combo/addition, and if you've never been wild about wheat beers, the mildly sweet pumpkin flavor balances out the overall taste, so you may want to give it a try!), Lonerider's Sweet Josie Brown Ale (from Raleigh, NC), Swamp Cabbage Porter (brewed right here in Columbia!), Palmetto Amber Ale (from Charleston) and Red Hare India Pale Ale (from Marietta, GA - if you're into hops, this Hare's for you!)
This is a family-friendly event, so the youngest of festival attendees will enjoy the Little Pepper’s Place area for kids, which will include a bounce house, 15 foot mega slide, the Ladder 9 fire truck, face painting, sidewalk chalk, bubbles and more. Nearby retailers will join the fun with sales and specials throughout the day. There are also plenty of opportunities for aspiring chefs to purchase food-related merchandise, as well as ladies v-neck tees, men’s crew tees, long sleeve shirts, aprons and koozies. And if - heaven forbid - you're not a particular fan of chili, the Pawley’s Front Porch food truck will be on hand throughout the day with burgers and other treats, as will King Arthur’s Flour, America’s oldest flour company, with an assortment of baked goods. And of course, proceeds form all of this benefit Camp Kemo as well.
There's no concurrent Blues Festival in the park this year, which means the opportunity for more live music, played from noon to 6:30 right in the midst of all the chili-centric activity. Bands performing include:
Noon – 12:45 pm – Kenny George Band
1:15 pm – 2:00 pm – Dave Britt
2:30 pm – 3:15 pm – Dr. Roundhouse
3:45 pm – 4:30 pm – Bossman
5:00 pm – 6:30 pm – Yo’ Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band
The Chili Cook-Off would not be possible without the generous support of businesses across the Midlands, including: Shock Top, Bi-Lo, Banfi Vinters, University Oaks, Garnet Riverwalk, SC Education Lottery, California Dreaming, McDaniel’s Automotive, Nicky’s Pizza, King Arthur Flour, Pawley’s Front Porch, Rosewood Market, Group Therapy, 92.1 The Palm, ColaDaily.com, 94.3 The Dude, and the City of Columbia.
About Camp Kemo: A cherished program for young patients and their siblings since 1980, Camp Kemo is a weeklong summer camp for patients with cancer, ages 5-18, and their siblings. Staffed by Palmetto Health physicians, nurses and volunteers, Camp Kemo allows campers to swim, boat, hike and be kids. The fun times at Camp Kemo lay important groundwork for future treatment as participants learn to trust, respect and relate to one another. Camp Kemo is completely funded by community donations.
About The Five Points Association: The Five Points Association is a non-profit organization whose principle task is ensuring that Five Points stays an integral and important part of the city of Columbia. The association has accomplished and endured many major infrastructure, development and beautification projects over the years. The association hosts annual events that continue to grow with each year and entertain thousands of people within the city of Columbia, as well as the state of South Carolina. For more information or to register as a chef, please go to www.FivePointsColumbia.com. Executive Director Amy Beth Franks can be reached at 803.446.8929 or email@example.com.
~ August Krickel