Akron firefighters defended their title Friday, again beating the police and other city departments, at the seventh annual Firefighters Chili Challenge.
The firefighters won the People’s Choice Award for the second consecutive year. Diners who sample the tasty selections cast the votes.
The Judge’s Award this year went to the Akron Personnel Department, which joined the contest at Lock 3 in downtown for the first time.
The challenge has raised more than $12,000 for the Akron Children’s Hospital Burn Unit since it began in 2007. An early rain hurt sales Friday, but the event still collected about $1,000.
Firefighter Mike Kranek, the chef behind the department’s concoction this year, was nervous about bringing home another win for the department. His chili, which he has been making at Station 3 for 20 years, featured three types of beans, fresh garlic, onions, tomatoes, ground beef and sausage. Cheese, onions and sour cream were offered on the side.
“There’s a lot of pressure to keep up with what we did last year,” he said while serving up ladles of chili. “It’s all for Children’s burn unit. They’re the ones who win.”
The other awards were:
• Most traditional: Firefighters. Appropriate considering the description, which was “Keep it Simple Chili.”
• Spiciest: Police. Also lived up to its name: “Tear Gas Chili.”
• Best Presentation: Downtown Akron Partnership, which served the only vegetarian chili.
• Most unique: Akron General Medical Center. The chefs handed out a flier on upcoming heartburn and acid reflux sessions the hospital is sponsoring.
“Not for ours,” one of the chefs joked, as she handed out a chili sample and offered a flier.
The personnel department had a contest among themselves to decide which recipe should be in the challenge.
Michelle Huey, an executive assistant, won with a chili that featured 26 ingredients, including beef sausage and beer. The department also had a good time coming up with potential names, which included Chili with Benefits, Chili with Appeal, Certified Chili and the People’s Chili.
“We had so much fun,” said Patty Ambrose Rubright, Akron’s personnel director.
Friday’s judges were Akron City Council President Garry Moneypenny, T.K. O’Grady of WONE, Scott Jennings of WAKR, Mary Tricaso of the Akron-Summit County Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Larry Thomas of the Akron Engineering Bureau, a past winning chef of the Chili Challenge.
“It’s definitely easier to judge than it is to cook,” said Thomas, whose recipe won people’s choice in 2009 and 2010 and most traditional in 2012.
Each contest participant is asked to make 10 to 13 gallons of chili. Thomas said his department, which didn’t participate this year, raised money to cover the expense, which runs several hundred dollars.
Kris and Kim Burns, the owner and chef at Kirby’s Meats in Stow, come to the Chili Challenge every year to enjoy other people doing the cooking.
Kris Burns liked the police department’s chili, which he thought was the only one with any heat, while Kim preferred the firefighters’ offering. He ate his without any toppings to get a true taste of the chili, while she piled hers high with whatever toppings the chefs suggested.
“This is a great tradition,” Kim Burns said. “I wish they could bring more people down here.”