Chow Down, Light Up

11th An­nual Chili Cook-off and down­town light­ing cer­e­mony

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Front Page - Story by DON THOMA­SON

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

Pho­tos by RICHARD RAS­MUSSEN and MARA KUHN

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.

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