Chili cook-off attracts over a thousand – Some like it hot, some not


Jenny Rockey, assistant manager at Ashton Ridge apartments, with her other half Korie Palmer, serve some of their award-winning salsa to Autumn Rossner of Parma.

By John Hummer – Exponent staff writer

If you missed it this year, plan on going next year. This is the event to be at – whether you like chili or not. Anybody who is anybody comes to the best chili cook-off around hosted by radio station K-105.3 and Tripp’s Auto Shop & Collision Centers. The event took place Sunday in the American 1 Events Center at the Jackson County Fairgrounds.

Even though it was a warm, sunny day outside, over a thousand people came to warm their insides with some of the best chili $5 dollars can buy. As a side show to attract another slice of the population, the event also featured a salsa cook-off complete with chips.

And if that’s not enough, there was also live music to entertain by Kevin Nichols and Zumba dancers from the Jackson YMCA to make you want to work off what you just feasted upon.

The event featured 28 chili and seven salsa contestants that took part in a contest with awards in a wide spectrum of categories ranging from professionals to schools, to best red and best white chilies, best decorated booth, and more. Top award winners earned anywhere from $50 to $250 as well as trophies and ribbons, depending upon place.

Ashley Smith of K-105.3 coordinated the event which has been going on for many years running.

“I think we had a great variety of people and a lot of different kinds of chili,” she said. “We had red chili, white chili, super spicy, not very spicy – lots of different stuff. We also had a few more vendors than we usually have that gave people a chance to come check out what Jackson has to offer. It was a ton of fun. Jackson loves it!”

Proceeds from the chili cook-off benefit the 4-H prize fund at the Jackson County Fair.

Zack Brown came all the way from Livonia to get his fill of chili of all kinds.

“It’s fantastic – all the chili was really good,” he said. “It’s a nice crowd and a beautiful day to be out.”

Terrance Knight from Jackson was found trying chili made by Northwest Schools which took first place in the schools’ category.

“It’s a really good event,” he said. “I’m glad to see all the people that came out today.”


This fun crew from Jackson served up their famous fireball chili and won first place overall. From left: Wendy Baldwin, “head chef” Lori Suomala, Kim Trolz, Tammy Neelis, and Sammy Densmor

Lynn Herndon also came quite a distance, from Gregory, with her grandson Jayce Craft of Pleasant Lake. They were visiting the booth of Rooney’s Sewer and Drain Service. Yes, any company can participate, no matter what they specialize in.

“It’s a good day out – we’re having a good time in here,” she said.

Rob Collier, who manages Rooney’s, had a company goal in mind for this year’s chili cook-off.


Lynn Herndon of Gregory is ready to deposit a ticket for a drawing in . . . the toilet. Let’s hope it didn’t get flushed! Herndon brought her grandson, Jayce Craft of Pleasant Lake, with her to the chili cook-off. Behind them is Rob Collier, manager of Rooney’s Sewer and Drain Service.

“We wanted to do better than our second-place finish last year,” he said. “This is also a great way to get out in the community and show our support. Tom Rooney, since he took it over from his father, has always felt very strong ties to the community.” Tom’s father passed away eight years ago, Collier said. “His dad always had a sense of community and giving back.”

Dan Villarreal is the regional manager for Anytime Fitness, another chili contestant.

“The owner of the company decided she really wanted to reach out to the community and get our face and name out there so people get to know who we are and what we have to offer,” he said. “What better way to do that than with food. That’s a part of fitness – the choice of food we make. So we made a combination of turkey and beef chili with a bunch of other great ingredients in there. It’s actually pretty healthy for you. Our secret ingredient will remain a secret.”

TLC Eye Care participated in the chili cook-off for the first time. They held a company-wide contest back in October with all their offices and the winner of that – sweet fiesta chili – was the chili they served at the event.

“We just try to do stuff that’s fun for the community,” said Cindy Hancock, TLC’s director of marketing and communications. “Now we’re better prepared for next year. We’ll come back every year now. It was a lot of fun.”


But it’s not only companies, schools, and community organizations that participate in the event. Lori Suomala and four of her girlfriends from Jackson have made it a tradition to participate in the chili cook-off.

“This is our sixth year together,” she said. “We’ve won pretty much every year – four years People’s Choice and one year in the professional division. We’re pretty famous – in Jackson anyways,” she said as her friends erupted in laughter. Yes, they won again.


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