Three weeks of bad weather couldn't keep the Lexington community from coming together and eating chili. After being postponed three times, the third annual Lexington County Chili Cook Off was held in the Icehouse Amphitheater Sunday afternoon. From vegan to smoked chicken, there was a chili for everyone at the cook-off, but the real reward was the sense of community the event brought to contestants and eaters alike.
A true community event, all proceeds from the cook-off are donated to three local charities — First Responders, 911 Remembrance Foundation of SC and the Town of Lexington’s “Adopt A Cop” program — and Freeway Music School students provide the entertainment. Community members of all ages enjoyed the cook-off and took part in the tasting.
"[It's] just a great family day, a nice and sunny day and lots of chili," eventgoer Renay Shealy said. "It's perfect for kids."
At the end of the event, two judges chose "Best Traditional Chili" and "Best Non-Traditional Chili" winners, and all cook-off attendees were invited to vote for their favorite samples for the "People's Choice" award. The chilis were judged on taste, aftertaste, aroma, appearance and consistency.
The competition is serious, with a number of strict rules about confidentiality and the judging process. However, even the Chili Cook Off rulebook acknowledges that the event "is intended to be a fund raising event, creating competition and friendships while benefitting the community."
Jim Williams, a veteran participant and winner of "Best Traditional Chili", enjoys the competition but ultimately comes back for the friendship.
“We've done this every year since they opened," Williams said. "It's something that's good to do for the community ... it's part of the family.
Like Williams, Leroy Holiday, who won "Best Non-Traditional Chili", has competed before — although this is his first time coming in first. His favorite part of the event are its charitable motivations. Every year, he represents Lexington County and "Lord willing" will be back next year to compete again.
Not all of the winners this year were experienced cook-off participants. Newcomers Sean and Loren Carrigan had never competed in any cook-off before coming to the Lexington County Chili Cook Off. Despite being the event's rookies, they brought the heat with their white chicken chili and won the "People's Choice" award. The couple is competitive — the night before the event, Loren Carrigan told her husband "it's first place or it's nothing" — but also saw a deeper meaning in the event.
“I mean first and foremost this is for charity and to have a friendly competition," said Sean Carrigan "That’s just icing on top of the cake of the real reason, which is to support people and the charities."
It may have taken three weeks, but the Lexington County Chili Cook Off was all the participants hoped it would be, and the community agrees it was worth the wait.