Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

September 23, 2013

No cookin' at chilifest this year


The Independent

ASHLAND — Ashland’s “Great Bowls of Fire Chilifest,” an annual fundraiser for the Paramount Arts Center Women’s Association since 2002, has been canceled for this year because of a lack of interest.

However, that lack of interest did not come from the many area residents who would have come to the Great Bowls of Fire Chilifest on Sept. 28. Since its inception, the event has annually drawn good crowds to the 14th Street parking lot next to the Paramount and has been a successful fundraiser for the historic downtown theater. We have little doubt that thousands would have stopped by to taste the chili and enjoy the entertainment again this year.

 However, it was the lack of interest from those who pride themselves as masters of cooking great chili that led to the cancellation of this year’s chilifest. With less than two weeks before the chilifest, only five cooks had entered the competition, and at least 20 were needed for the event to be certified by the International Chili Society so the top cook can advance to the next level of competition.

 “We couldn’t do it,” said Ashland City Commission Cheryl Spriggs, who has spearheaded the annual event since its inception. “We’d have been out of chili by 11 o’clock. You can’t have a Chilifest without chili.”

 We don’t pretend to be experts on chili festivals, but we suspect a major reason why the “Great Bowls of Fire Chilifest” failed to attract more contestants is because it was scheduled too soon after the older and much larger ChiliFest WV at Huntington’s Pullman Square. That chili festival dates back to 1983 and has raised more than a half million dollars for Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Tri-State over the last 30 years. The Huntington festival annually attracts about 20,000, which is five times more than the Ashland festival.

This year’s 30th annual ChiliFest WV, which doubles as the West Virginia state chili championship, was Sept. 14, just 14 days before the “Great Bowls of Fire” was to be. It takes a great deal of time and effort and even a bit of expense to compete in a chili contest. It is possible that many chili cooks did not want to give up two Saturdays in three weeks to cook chili and, given a choice between competing in a chili festival in either Huntington or Ashland, Huntington is going to win out every time. ChiliFest WV is older and much better attended than the Ashland festival.

 In fact, it was the success of ChiliFest WV that inspired Great Bowls of Fire, and while the Ashland event has enjoyed a level of success, it has always remained in the shadow of Huntington’s event. At first, organizers of Great Bowls of Fire tried to schedule it at a different time of the year than ChiliFest WV, but local chili competitions must be in the fall so winners may advance to the next level. That requires festivals in Ashland and Huntington be just weeks apart.

Spriggs contacted the ISC and they told her the lack of chili cooks was a nationwide trend.

 While this year’s event is not to be, Spriggs promises “Great Bowls of Fire” will return in 2014. “We’re not quitters down at the Paramount,” she said. “This is a very big deal for us not to have this.”

 We hope it does return because we have always enjoyed the chilifests. However, in planning next year’s “Great Bowls of Fire,” organizers must decide what caused so few cooks to enter this year’s contest and come up with a way to avoid the same thing occurring again in 2014. As Spriggs said, you can’t have a chilifest without chili, and without more competitors, future “Great Bowls of Fire” are in doubt.