Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Sampling chili along Central October 18, 2011

HOW DO YOU LIKE your chili? With a shot of whiskey? Beer? An extra dash of cayenne?

All three were among ingredients incorporated into some of the chili served Saturday during the 2011 “Main Street” Fall Festival Chili Cook-Off along Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault.

I was there, tagging behind my husband Randy and sister Lanae as they raced ahead of me, determined to taste all 33 chilies in an hour. (I had my camera, thus the lagging.) We didn’t quite accomplish our goal; some vendors ran out of chili and we missed a few.

But we all ate enough to fill our stomachs and then vote for our favorites.

Randy and Lanae apparently know a good chili when they taste one as the chili they selected—John Stepan’s at Geek Central—won the cook-off contest with 13 percent of the vote. John wouldn’t divulge his secret recipe to us, but he did mention something about soaking the chunky, green pepper-laced beef in an oriental sauce. And that was about all he would reveal.

I photographed only one chili and it happened to be the winner, John Stepan's chili at Geek Central.

I nearly voted for John’s chili, but instead cast my ballot for Glenn’s Towing. The guys manning the booth claimed motor oil and ground-up rubber as ingredients.

My sister and I took that as a challenge to finagle the truth out of them. They offered us 25 cents off a gallon of gas if we could guess three of the unusual ingredients. I suggested vinegar. Wrong. Lanae suggested brown sugar. Right.

But we failed to guess the other two, three actually, as it turns out: whiskey, cream cheese and cocoa. No discounted gas for us.

The catchy display of vintage toys at the Glenn's Towing booth.

A wagon-load of pumpkins were for sale in front of the Nook & Cranny, where Carl Mortenson's chili was served.

Theirs wasn’t the only chili including alcohol. At the Nook & Cranny, Carl Mortenson served his Guinness-infused chili.

And across the street at Flair Furniture, another chili taster thought beer might go well with the cowboy and cowgirl chilies served by competing father-in-law/daughter-in-law David and Mara Thiele.

The Thieles offering their western style chili at Flair Furniture.

At Hoffman Law Office, you could add your level of heat toppings to your chili. The felony level: Hell-fire Habanera

In fact, if you ever imbibe in this chili smorgasbord, I’d recommend buying a bottle of water to cleanse your palate or quell the tongue-burning fiery chilies—and we’re not talking temperature here.

Just for the record, plenty of fire-free and alcohol-free chilies were served.

An especially festive table at the Crafty Maven.

The Paradise Center for the Arts served chili and promoted its upcoming MASH production.

At the Signature Bar & Grill, General George Custer (aka Dave Custer) served his chili.

There really was a costume contest, albeit for kids, not adults. Although we missed the actual costume parade down Central Avenue earlier in the morning, I caught this Raggedy Ann and Andy and their dad later.

All in all, if you enjoy chili on a fall day, Faribault’s Fall Festival Chili Cook-Off would be the event for you. This year it cost a reasonable $2 to purchase a plastic spoon and then meander—or race—from booth to booth for two hours trying chili. We didn’t get there until about noon, so had only an hour to sample. Give yourself more time, especially if you want to visit with other fest-goers, check out the businesses and really take in the atmosphere.

FYI: Proceeds from the Chili Cook-Off benefit the Faribault Main Street program designed “to create an attractive destination in which businesses prosper, the community benefits and residents and visitors enjoy a quality downtown experience.” To learn more, click here.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling