Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

“Dante’s inferno” chili & more in a Minnesota church basement February 18, 2014

Trinity Lutheran Church, Medford, Minnesota.

Trinity Lutheran Church, Medford, Minnesota.

THE SPICY SCENT OF CHILI wafted up the stairs as I entered the church late Sunday afternoon for Trinity Lutheran, Medford’s, second annual Chili Cook-Off.

A sign directs diners to the church basement.

A sign directs diners to the church basement.

I shed my winter coat, got instructions on the chili sampling process and then headed downstairs to taste, and judge, 30 homemade chilis. Twas a nearly impossible task given the numbers and the home-cooked goodness.

Trinity's basement was packed.

Dining in the church basement.

I’ve found church basement food events to be, with only one exception, superb dining experiences.

Randy and I dined with friends from our church, Trinity Lutheran, Faribault.

Randy and I dined with friends from our church, Trinity Lutheran, Faribault.

Here, in the fellowship of friends, I spooned chili into numbered plastic cups, ate and then attempted to choose my favorites. I had five tickets to cast five votes.

The first 12 of 30 chilies sampled.

The first 12 of 30 chilies sampled.

Some I quickly eliminated as too bland or too salty or too ordinary.

Diners spoon chili into cups.

Diners spoon chili into cups.

I was looking for something savory and different.

So many varieties to taste.

So many varieties to taste.

In one chili I detected a hint of cinnamon.

Crockpots of chili were set up on tables on opposite ends of the basement.

Crockpots of chili were set up on tables on opposite ends of the basement.

Many, as you would expect, tasted of tomato in varying degrees of intensity.

Each diner got five tickets with which to cast votes.

Lines formed to spoon up the chili.

Chocolate overwhelmed one. An attempt, perhaps, to woo the female vote?

Eighteen more chilis to try, including the (green) avocado one in the second row from the bottom.

Eighteen more chilis to try, including the (green) avocado one in the second row from the bottom.

A chili laced with chunks of avocado won my favor, while my husband, seeing the green veggies, wouldn’t even try it. His loss.

Numbered cups were stacked by the appropriately numbered chili.

Numbered cups were stacked by the appropriately numbered chili. Diners placed tickets in the boxes to vote. Kari Yule’s chili, number 17, took the trophy. And, yes, I voted for Kari’s chili, among four others.

Of one chili, number 25, the opinion seemed unanimous. This chili packed some wicked heat, so hot I motioned for Randy to refill my water glass and, after a few gulps, to “please pass the crackers.”

A list of those who made chili.

A list of those who made chili.

Afterward I would find the chili sign-up sheet upstairs in the church narthex with “Dante’s Inferno” on the list.

A trophy and first and second place medals were awarded.

A trophy and first and second place medals were awarded.

In the end, Kari Yule claimed the trophy while Amy Grayson took second and Randy Lemke (with help from niece Brandi) came in third.

A line forms near the church kitchen.

A line forms near the church kitchen.

All were winners in my eyes—especially us 120 diners.

Trinity's youth count the votes.

Trinity’s youth count the votes.

Trinity youth also earned $803 through a free will offering for the 2016 Lutheran Church Missouri Synod National Youth Gathering in New Orleans.

I'm not sure how much, if any, chili little Lauren ate. But she was there with her parents, Pastor Mark Biebighauser and his wife, Joni.

I’m not sure how much, if any, chili little Lauren ate. But she was there with her parents, Pastor Mark Biebighauser and his wife, Joni.

What a great event. If you haven’t attended a chili cook-off or partaken of food in a church basement, do. You’ll find delicious food, good company and, typically, will assist in funding a worthy cause.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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22 Responses to ““Dante’s inferno” chili & more in a Minnesota church basement”

  1. treadlemusic Says:

    Wow! 30 different chilis!!!!! I have been to several different styles of such cook-offs and all were fabulous. The very nature of the gathering lends itself to visiting with yet-to-be-friends sitting at the table with you. Discussion and opinion fill the conversations……such fun!!!!!

  2. What a great event. It is hard to argue with variety – especially when it pertains to food. It is fun to experience everyone’s version of a classic comfort food.

  3. Looks like FUN:) I did some beer tasting this weekend and it was great to get out to support the local brewers and business owners. Happy Tuesday!

  4. Thread crazy Says:

    From the looks of it, the chili I’m sure warmed everyone on a cold winter’s night! What a variety of chili you had to judge – especially the chocolate flavored one. While I love chocolate, I draw the line at chocolate flavor chili!

  5. Amy Says:

    That event looks fun, but I wouldn’t want to be around for the gassy repercussions later! The first thought in my head reading through your post was, “These people REALLY need to learn what slow cooker liners are!!” Best invention for easy clean up with messes like that!!! And if you are looking for something different in your chili…add some cinnamon!

  6. Allan Says:

    Just noticed something in one of your photos. I wonder if God’s words, “He leadeth me beside the still waters” had anything to do with the hot chili?

  7. Fun! I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to taste Dante’s Inferno! 🙂 But the avocado one sounds good. I’ve put a wee bit of Hershey’s cocoa into chili before, but not much – I don’t know why that is in some recipes, but yes, it needs to be just a tiny bit and not so much that you taste chocolate chili!

  8. I was hoping for some “winning” recipes, as I’m always interested in chili recipes. Some looked delicious, others (avocado and green veggie) not so much.


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