Chow Down, Light Up
11th Annual Chili Cook-off and downtown lighting ceremony
The downtown Hot Springs holiday season will kick off Nov. 25 with the 11th annual Chili Cook-off and decoration lighting ceremony. The idea of the local chili cook-off was born about 11 years ago during a visit to Gatlinburg, Tenn., by Tom Daniel, former president of the Downtown Merchants Association. Daniel said he usually visits Gatlinburg in the late fall every year and about 10 years ago as he drove into town, he noticed a new parking deck had been built, and it was adorned with a banner proclaiming “Winterfest Chili Cook-off.” “I said, ‘Dadgum, we just built a new parking deck and that’s something we should look at down there.’” Upon his return to Hot Springs, Daniel said he got with some other people and mentioned the cook-off idea to them and said it was “something we need to try and see how it will work.” The idea to use the cook-off as a fundraiser for holiday lights in the downtown area also took form at the same time and the event, which will begin at 4:30 p.m. this year at the Exchange Street Parking Plaza, is now the major fundraiser for the holiday light displays in Hot Springs. “We were always coming up short of money for Christmas lights and we couldn’t figure out who was going to be responsible — if the merchants were going to pay for putting up and taking down the lights, or whatever. “So I got a few people together and we said, ‘Yeah, lets do something; we have to make some money.”
Daniel said previous efforts to raise money for holiday lighting “was never of any size, and didn’t reach the magnitude we needed to make the money we needed to bring in.” He said the chili cook-off seemed to be the easiest event to do, “and 11 years later here we are getting ready to do it again.” Since its inception, the chili cook-off has raised between $75,000 and $100,000 for lights in the downtown area, with some companies and corporations buying hundreds of dollars worth of tickets to give to their employees. “It’s a neat way to say thank you and provide a good time downtown and pay back the merchants for some of the things they do downtown year round,” Daniel said. Daniel said there has been a tremendous amount of response over the years from people wanting to cook at the event, which includes novice, nonprofessional and professional categories. “We even have some ‘Do I dare eat this or not?’ chili. We’ve got some risk takers down there eating chili, but so far everyone has made it back home, so I guess it’s been edible. “But it’s a hoot, a great time, and it goes for a worthy cause,” Daniel said of the cook-off. Cash prizes of $100 to $300 and large trophies are awarded to the winners. “Our trophies are first class. It’s something to see that big trophy sitting someplace,” Daniel said. As for the chili that will be available at the cook-off, Daniel said there is
Lance Spicer of Hot Springs stirs a pot of chili at the Exchange Street Parking Plaza during the 10th Annual Chili Cook-off, 2012. Spicer was part of the Flaming Beiber Chili Company team who prepared an exotic entry made with a combination of meat from oryx, antelope, elk and deer.
Cynthia Keheley, left, Tom Daniel, Bob Martorana, Suzanne Tucker, Ann Gilbert and Mark Fleischner pose near one of the Christmas lighting displays November 15, 2012.