Winona Chili Cookoff

On a cold day, Winona residents had the opportunity to sample 19 businesses’ chili recipes at the 22nd Annual Chili Cook-off at Winona Middle School.

Winona National Bank sponsored the event, with all profits being donated to the Winona local charity Ready, Set, School.

Ready, Set, School is a non-profit organization that gives families that can’t afford school related supplies the money to do so, in a form of a voucher.

According to the Ready, Set, School website, the company provided 1,159 vouchers to 105 students.

Jenny Baertsch, the Marketing Communications Officer and Secretary on the board of Ready, Set, School said the chili cook-off is the company’s largest event and the beginning of fundraising events this year.

“We use this as kind of the platform to get people excited again and ready to donate,” Baertsch said. “Throughout the rest of the year, up until the summer months when kids are shopping for school supplies, we do different partnerships with businesses in town where businesses will donate 10 percent of their sales to Ready, Set, School for the day.”

Among those businesses, according to Baertsch are: Bloedows, Lakeview Drive In, Godfather’s Pizza, and Green Mill.

The cook-off raised $5,086.69 dollars, with $2,976.69 coming in sales and $2,110.00 coming in donations. Baertsch said the event raised $4,629.80, hoping that they would be able to come close to last year’s results.

“Last year we raised about $4,000 dollars,” Baertsch said. “So if we can match that or raise more, I’ll be really happy about that.”

According to Baertsch, 35 percent of Winona County come from families that can’t afford school supplies with that money being able to support more families than last year.

The cook-off had 19 varieties of chili donated by: Bluff Country Co-op, Brewski’s Pub & Eatery, Bub’s Brewing Company, Chartwell’s at WSU, Ground Round, Jefferson’s Pub & Grill, Kwik Trip Store #746 Homer Road, Lewiston-Altura Intermediate School, North End Pub & Grill, Riverway Learning Community, Signatures Restaurant, Steak Shop Catering, Steak Shop Catering at Cotter Schools, Sugar Loaf Senior Living, Timbers Restaurant, Winona Area Public Schools, and Winona Health Catering.

At the event, the first major decision that needed to be made for Winona residents was to try spicy or mild.

One of the residents at the event was Jerry Zettler, who ate five out of the eight spicy chilis.

“I’m picking the Chartwells,” Zettler said. “Then it’s probably the North End. Overall, I like the texture and the taste.”

On the mild side was Miss Winona Brittany Moncrief, who donated her time by cleaning tables and helping serve people. Moncrief said the consistency of the chili was important to her.

“I like the Winona Health one,” Moncrief said. “There were some that were more (like liquid) than others, there were some that were thicker than others, and that one was just perfect.”

Another volunteer at the event was part-time Winona National Bank employee Bob Benedict, a first time volunteer, said he jumped at the chance to help at the cook-off.

“I enjoy this, doing stuff like this in the community,” Benedict said. “They said they needed volunteers and I said I’d love to help serve and talk to people.”

As far as chili goes, Benedict enjoys the spicier chili, but there was perspiration involved.

“I sampled three of them,” Benedict said. “My favorite probably is the one from Chartwells, it was thicker, meatier chili. I had a little bit of tears and sweat on my forehead when I was eating it.”

Winona National Bank has always sponsored the event itself since it’s beginning, Baertsch said, but began with a partnership with the Winona County D.A.R.E. program.

Baertsch said the Ready, Set, School has been sponsored by Winona National Bank as well since it’s beginning.

“We helped get the program up and running,” Baertsch said. “We’ve been a strong supporter of their mission and in the past, ten to 12 years, the chili cook-off has been benefiting Ready, Set, School.”

In the past, Baertsch said individual chili recipes could be submitted, that didn’t come from a business, but due to food licensing laws, they can’t be accepted anymore.

Residents were able to enjoy entertainment from the Winona Fiddlers and other local student groups.

For the event, a panel of judges was brought in to taste the different chili, deciding which one would win for the spicy and mild categories.

The judges chose Riverway Learning Community, Bluff Country Co-op, and Jefferson’s chili for the mild category and Sugar Loaf Senior Living, North End Pub & Grill, and Signatures for the spicy category.

The most coveted award, according to Baertsch is the Public Tasters’ Choice Award, where the public is able to vote on the best overall chili between mild and spicy.

As far as Baertsch’s taste buds go, she avoids anything too spicy.

“My favorite personally was from the mild category,” Baertsch said. “I’m a mild girl. I liked the chili submitted by Winona Area Public Schools.”

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