Carol Hancock is president/CEO of the International Chili Society (ICS). Founded in 1967, the ICS is a non-profit organization that sanctions chili cookoffs with judging and cooking rules and regulations. It is one of the largest food contest festival organization in the world, having sanctioned 200 cookoffs world wide with over one million people tasting, cooking, judging, and having a great time while raising over 91 million dollars for charities. All winners of ICS sanctioned cookoffs qualify to compete for cash prizes and awards at the World’s Championship Chili Cookoff held each year in October.
I am delighted to announce that John Jepson, who won this year’s $25,000 grand prize for his traditional red chili, has agreed to share his winning recipe and cookoff tips in my Chili Cookoff in a Box to be published by Andrews McMeel next summer.
Gina: What are the benefits of holding an ICS-sanctioned chili cookoff?
Carol: The biggest advantage to an ICS-sanctioned event is the opportunity to compete at the World’s Championship Chili Cookoff. ALL competitors are pre-qualified by being a first-place winner in whichever category they pursue. ALL sanctioned events are held for charity. Upon approval by the ICS to hold a sanctioned event (this is done by application and our personal approval), the ICS provides absolutely everything a cookoff chairman needs to hold the event (i.e. ballot sheets, ICS logo judging cups, tips for advertising, acquiring sponsors, etc., a Chief Judge, Chief Scorekeeper, Certified Chili Judges, timing, etc.) This can all be accessed through our website if you need more information. From a members’ point of view, they enjoy being part of the huge ICS chili family and are proud of the charity dollars that they help acquire.
Gina: Do you have any tips for chili cookoff contestants?
Carol: Follow the rules of the ICS, use the freshest ingredients and high-quality meat and have fun! If you win, don’t change the recipe that you used to win! Don’t make the mistake of “sprinkling” powders or adding ingredients without taking note of the changes. How will you win the WCCC with the same “winning recipe” unless you remember what it was?
Carol: Judges are usually invited by the cookoff chairmen – sometimes city officials, restaurant chefs, mayor, etc. It’s always good to have seasoned judges that have participated in other events – they will generally make themselves known. The ICS is currently offering classes in our new Certified Chili Judges (CCJ) classes. At some point in the future, CCJ’s will be given preferential position to judge ICS events over non-certified people. ICS will always accept VIPs, local choices of judges by the organizers, sponsors who want to judge, etc.
Gina: Do you have any advice for chili cookoff judges? How best to pace themselves and what criteria should they use to evaluate the chili?
Carol: Taste is the number one consideration. We advise a small taste to start, taste as many times as necessary to arrive at your choices and clear your palate between chilies. Our website clearly defines the judging criteria and details are taught in the CCJ classes.
Gina: What makes the difference between a good chili and a great one?
Carol: The spices and high-quality meat.
Gina: Chili seems to inspire extraordinary passion. Why do you think that is?
Carol: It seems to have established that attitude all by itself. I’ve never mentioned the ICS without the comment “I love chili!” Chili is a controversial dish. There are so many varieties and recipes – hence the very first cookoff in 1967. Everyone thinks they or someone close to them makes the Best Chili In The World. We invite them to join the ICS and prove it.