Neighborhood enjoys 18th annual Chili Cook-off

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In 1998, Todd Stover and a couple of neighbors on Chaparral Way came together to create a neighborhood tradition. Today, 18 years later, that tradition is still going strong. On Saturday, October 1, more than 90 people gathered at the cul-de-sac in front of Todd Stover’s home for the 18th annual Chaparral Way Chili Cook-off.

The annual chili cook-off is a private event for the residents who live on Chaparral Way. Traditionally, each resident is allowed to invite a guest. Guests have come from as far away as Germany. Other guests include former Chaparral Way residents who return each year just to attend their old neighborhood’s chili cook-off.

This year, there were 14 entrants competing for the “Cook’s Choice” and “People’s Choice” awards. There are no fees or forms to fill out to enter. “We keep the rules simple,” says Todd. “Just show up with your chili in a crockpot, and you’re entered.”  Lance Lillie, another one of the original organizers, says, “In the past, we’ve had winners ranging from 9 to 70 years old.”

The 1st place winners in both the Cook’s Choice and People’s Choice receive a perpetual trophy, which they must bring back the next year and pass on to the new 1st place winners. The 2nd and 3rd place winners get to keep their awards.

The winners this year included Jeff Bast, who nabbed 1st place in the Cook’s Choice and 3rd place in the People’s Choice categories. This is not Jeff’s first win; he won the 1st place Cook’s Choice award on two previous occasions.

Gavin Johnsen won the 1st place Peoples Choice award for his “Spicy as Hell” chili. Gavin has been attending this event for three years, but it’s his first time winning. Chelsea Hiebing, a newcomer to both Canyon Lake and the chili cook-off, took home the 2nd place award for her Cowboy Jack’s Chili.  She says it’s a family recipe.

Trevor and Debbie Moreno entered the cook-off in honor of Trevor’s mom’s birthday. The Moreno’s won the 2nd place Cook’s Choice award. Debbie jokingly says, “I do all the work, Trevor just throws in the meat.” Phil Sydow won the 3rd place Cook’s Choice award.

Resident Ken Signorio didn’t go home a winner, but he was happy just to be able to attend the event this year. Ken, a captain with the Beverly Hills Fire Department, was unable to attend last year because he was on duty. Todd says, “Ken retired this last year, so we actually got to have him without worrying if he could make it or not. He and his wife Wendy have helped tremendously with  the contest over the years.”

New resident Harry Gill says, “This is a great way to bring a neighborhood together.” Todd Stover agrees. “This is not about having a party. It’s about getting together to know our neighbors. It’s about renewing friendships. We really do have the best block in Canyon Lake.  Because of our annual chili cook-offs, we all know each other on a deeper level and we really look out for each other,” he says.

Lance says Todd is the driving force behind the event and helping to make it a success, noting, “Every year Todd goes door to door handing out flyers and making sure people attend. He takes pride in knowing that this event he started 18 years ago has brought the neighbors on our block closer together.”

Last year, Lance started a Chaparral Way Chili Cook-off Facebook group so members can swap photos and stories, and stay in touch all year long. Other festivities at the annual event include a bounce house for the kids and cornhole games for the adults. The group photo is also an annual tradition.

“A lot of friendships have been formed at our chili cook-offs, and we hope to carry on this annual tradition for many more years to come,” says Todd.

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Donna Ritchie