For the first time, an official chili cook off took place in Canada on Saturday.
Kleefeld hosted Canada’s first Kansas City Barbeque Association certified chilli cook off at their annual Honey Festival. There was a total of four contestant groups, each of whom were graded on criteria including aroma, taste and booth design by a panel of three judges, one of whom was a certified judge from the association.
The contestants began setting up as early as 6am Saturday and were cooking from 8:00am until 11:00am. Kleefeld Rec Association President and Cook Off Organizer Gord Meneer explains that there was one booth that stood out from the rest.
“One of the highlights would be that we had a really nicely decorated booth. I think they put a lot of effort into it, it looked like a Christmas concert. They had gone all out, and it was very well done. They did a great job.”
Over 100 people showed up at noon to taste the chili, which Meneer notes was outstanding. He explains with the interest level generated by the cook off this year, he expects it to grow next year.
“I think we had a lot of inquiries this year, but a few people were a bit more hesitant than they needed to be. Once the event started and people came and talked about and saw what was going on, there were multiple people who were excited that they could do this next year.”
Inaugural champion Brian Hildebrand says he certainly wasn’t expecting to win, as he nearly didn’t attend the cook off. He explains he got home late from a wedding Friday night and thought he would be too tired to be able to get started at 6am. However, he ended up pulling through and now says it feels great to be the first official chili champion in Canada.
Hildebrand says he used most of the three hours to cook his chilli, and did several things to set it apart from the other contestants.
“What I tried to do is put a significant amount of my favourite flavours into it. One of them being gravy, which is the only secret ingredient that I’ll tell you. When you think about poutine, the best part of it is the gravy, so I put some of that in my chili.”
While Hildebrand isn’t actually from Kleefeld (he lives in Niverville), he does have strong ties to the community as he has been teaching there for the past eight years. Hildebrand notes one of the coolest things about winning was being able to do it in front of many of his students.