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The Student News Site of St. Edward's University

Hilltop Views

The Student News Site of St. Edward's University

Hilltop Views

Jo’s 17th Annual Charity Chili Cook-Off Spices Up South Congress

Zemira Recio / Hilltop Views
People around Austin flocked to South Congress to attend the 17th annual Jo’s Chili Cook-Off. The competition hosted many different teams from across the city and showcased their culinary talents.

Since 2005, Jo’s Coffee has partnered with Hotel San José to host an annual chili cook-off. Competitors across Austin come and put their creative culinary skills to the test as they go head-to-head to see who has the prized pot. On Sunday, Feb. 4, everyone gathered once again for the festivities of the 17th annual cook-off.

The competition serves as a charity event that raises money for the organization Free Lunch ATX. Free Lunch is a local Austin collective aimed at tackling food insecurity by providing nourishing meals to those in need and advocating for better food access in Austin. Alongside Free Lunch, sponsors of the event included HEB, Topo Chico and Independence Beer.

Austinites gathered in the joint lot between Jo’s Coffee and Hotel San José on South Congress to taste test the many unique variants of what is named the Texas State Dish. Later, they put in their votes for which team cooked up the prize-winning chili.

Along with the chili-related perks, there was also live music performed by the Jo’s House Band and a raffle. The band played jaunty, catchy country tunes throughout the entirety of the festival; many attendees freely danced with one another and took part in the two-step competition.

The cook-off offered many various activities for spectators. Attendees were able to taste-test and vote for their favorite chili. Live music, two-step dancing and raffles were also included in the festivities.

A total of 11 teams competed in Jo’s Chili Cook-Off, some returners and some first-timers. The teams that attended were A Chef in Your Kitchen, Trash Panda, Farm to Chili, Carne Knowledge, Popes of Chilitown, Renegade Chili, Southern Comfort, Clay Pigeon, Buckeye on the Bayou, All Pro Smoke Show and Carpenters Hall. 

Each team had their own strengths and qualities, such as having ingredients that would add originality to their chili, creating a new recipe every year or using Texas native spices. Michael Wake, one of the main team members of Chef in Your Kitchen, explained that the uniqueness of his chili lies within the various spices he gets from across the state. Wake, a native Texan, said he wanted his chili to have that Texan authenticity. 

“Mine is a classic and what they call Texas red chili,” Wake said. “And that comes from a variation of ground and fresh chilis.”

Each team had highly creative, decorative booths from which they each presented their chili, ready to be tasted and judged as speculators made their way to each team. 

Once attendees took their pick of their favorite chili and votes were counted, the competition coordinators got on stage and announced the winners to the crowd. There were three categorical awards of the cook-off: crowd favorite, runner-up and the overall winner. 

Buckeye on the Bayou was the first-announced winner for crowd favorite. The team’s front-runners Terry O’Connor and Doug Brown, along with their wives, have been consistent competitors in the cook-off since 2012. O’Connor and Brown explained that this was their first time receiving a win for crowd favorite, having won the judges’ competition in the past. 

“We have been lucky enough to win the judges’ competition five or six times, but we have never come close to the crowd favorite,” O’Connor said. “So to know that the people who are supporting this cause like our chili is even more exciting.” 

The Popes of Chilitown was named the winner of the 17th annual Jo’s Chili Cook-Off. The Popes of Chilitown, whose namesake was inspired by a season 8 episode of  “The Simpsons,” celebrated its first-ever win in 13 years of competing in the cook-off. 

The Popes of Chilitown is a generational team that consists of John Bullington and his friends, who are also accompanied by the help of his kids and family to pass on the tradition. Once their team name was announced, excitement erupted amongst the team. Bullington says that, though they have received the title of runner-up twice in the past, winning first place was a surprising achievement for all of them. 

“It feels so incredible because you never think you are gonna win,” Bullington said. “But it’s a great feeling to get first place.”

Other award-winners included the team Clay Pigeons, who received the title of runner-up by the judges, and All Pro Smoke Show, who was the winner in HEB’s Quick Fire Challenge.

The Jo’s Chili Cook-Off serves as an exciting, delicious celebration for Texans, cooks and attendees alike, who all continue to share a mutual love for the Lone Star dish. 

“People come from all over for this communal experience,” Wake said. “It is like having one big chili family.”

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About the Contributor
Zemira Recio, Staff Writer
Zemira is a freshman and this is her first year being a Staff Writer for Hilltop Views. She is a political science major and aspires to become a lawyer someday. When she's not writing or doing schoolwork, her favorite past times are reading and painting.

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