Veteran Jim Lilleston’s quest for a blue ribbon at the Lenexa Chili Challenge spans years and even war.
But his pursuit had a happy ending this year when he and his Chiliman 27 team won first place in the Homestyle Chili division.
“I’ve been entering every year since 1997, except 2003 when I was deployed to Iraq,” Lilleston said. “That year some friends who are regulars at the contest cooked up chili and entered it in my name. I think I came in eighth. That was my best until last year when I placed second in the Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI) division.”
More than 8,000 attended the 28th annual two-day event last weekend in Old Town Lenexa.
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“It’s the largest crowd we’ve had in years,” said Lindsay Hart, recreation superintendent of Lenexa Parks and Recreation Department. “The beautiful weather helped. Last year it rained and that cut down on the attendance.”
Jim Lilleston’s second-place finish came against his friendly rival Colleen Lintner. She and her Toad Chokin’ Chili team won a second CASI title that moved her into a select group with Larry Velasquez of Mission and Jerri Dowdy of Kansas City, as the only two-time CASI winners in the Lenexa contest’s history.
“But I got back at her this year when I won Homestyle and Colleen was second,” said Lilleston, who lives in Overland Park. “We’ve been friends for years and our rivalry is part of the fun of being in the contest.
“Of course we didn’t plan it that way. It’s all up to the judges,” Lilleston said.
“Oh, yeah, I have to keep an eye on Jim. We talk a little smack when we light the fires,” Lintner said. “Friends are a big part of being in the contest year after year.”
Lintner has been entering the Chili Challenge for 15 years and has collected an impressive array of ribbons, including first place in CASI in 2003 and second place in 2005. She won her first Homestyle in 2006.
“I’ve been using the same recipe in both categories all these years and I’m not going to change now,” she said.
Homestyle chili may include any kind of meat with beans and other fillers. CASI rules permit only meat and chili peppers and spices, no beans or fillers.
First place in the prestigious CASI division this year went to an out-of-towner, Ethel Hewlitt, and her Tweety “B” Chili team from Wichita. It was only the second time she’s entered the Lenexa contest.
“I entered the CASI division in 2011 and came in second. When I was announced as the winner this year I was totally surprised. Believe me, confident I was not,” she said with a laugh.
Will she enter again? “We’ll be back next year,” Hewlitt said. “We have good friends who live in Lenexa. We’ll be there.”
Hewlitt and her husband, Richard, have been entering chili contests for 19 years, dating back to when they lived in Texas. They’ve lived in Wichita nine years.
Amanda Schurman-Chard of Ottawa, who took over the Paradise Spice team when her stepfather, Tom Schrivner, retired after 18 years as cook, placed second in the CASI division behind Hewlitt.
“Last year was my first as cook and we finished sixth in CASI. Getting second this year was a big step up,” she said. “I tried several different recipes and finally settled on a mix of my own. Hopefully we’re on the right track now.”
For the second consecutive year, the Paradise Spice team finished second in the Showmanship category. “Our entire family gets into it: my stepdad, my mom, Melanie; my husband, Matt; and me. We’ve had a pirate theme both years,” Schurman-Chard said. “We dress as pirates and pass out treats, including chili and salsa from our treasure chest.”
David Capps of Lenexa and his Chili Joint team won first place in Showmanship for the second year in a row. “This is just our second year in the contest so we’re doing pretty well,” he said.
Greg Heuer’s Moe Dangie Hillbilly Chili team won first in the fund-raising category again this year by raising $4,266 for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, topping last year’s total of $2,710. Heuer lives in Excelsior Springs.
First-place winners in the CASI and Homestyle Divisions receive $200 gift certificates, plaques and blue ribbons. Second receives a $125 certificate and third a $50 certificate. First place in the other categories receive $50 certificates, second, $20, and third, $10.
Lenexa Chili Challenger winners
CASI: First place, Ethel Hewlitt, Tweety “B” Chili, Wichita; second, Amanda Schurman-Chard, Paradise Spice, Ottawa; third, Chuck Even, The Gas Company, Overland Park.
Homestyle: First place, Jim Lilleston, Chiliman 27, Overland Park; second, Colleen Lintner, Toad Chokin’ Chili, Shawnee; third, Kenny Bates, Cedar Creek, Shawnee.
Salsa: First place, Kevin Price, Two Tears in a Bucket, Lenexa; second, Brian Talbott, Lakeview Village, Lenexa; Kevin Stovall, Chipotlehead Chili, Lee’s Summit.
Hot Wings: First place, Barbara Snitker, RBR Cook-N, Lenexa; second, Brent Melroy, B-Units Fireball Chili, Bel Aire, Kan; third, Kevin Price, Two Tears in a Bucket, Lenexa.
Showmanship: First place, David Capps, Chili Joint, Lenexa; second, Amanda Schurman-Chard, Paradise Spice, Ottawa; third, Brad Delay, Persimmon Hillbillies, Olathe.
Fund-raising: First place, Greg Heuer, Moe Dangie Hillbilly Chili, Excelsior Springs, Mo.; second, Troy Brady, Team T-Gee, Lenexa; third, Tom Haymaker, Zenometrics, Olathe.