Fifth Alabama River Chili Cookoff takes over Water Avenue

Published 10:56 pm Thursday, April 7, 2016

Blue Jean Church team chef Ryan Bergeron lifts the first place trophy after his team won the fifth annual Alabama River Chili Cookoff, which was held Thursday on Water Avenue.

Blue Jean Church team chef Ryan Bergeron lifts the first place trophy after his team won the fifth annual Alabama River Chili Cookoff, which was held Thursday on Water Avenue.

Under a tent stationed next to the St. James Hotel, Natalie Shelton stood over a pan of browning beef, continually stirring so it wouldn’t burn.

“It will give you a bang,” she said as she continued the stir.

Shelton was cooking chili on the Mayor’s Office team in the Selma-Dallas County Leadership Class XVIII’s fifth annual Alabama River Chili Cookoff. The annual event was held Thursday on Water Avenue.

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Each year the cook-off benefits a different charity. This year the Selma Area Food Bank was the beneficiary.

“Anytime we get additional funds like this that aren’t expected, it’s a blessing,” said food bank executive director Jeff Harrison. “We’re just grateful to be a part of it.”


The Selma-Dallas County Leadership Class XVIII held its fifth annual Alabama River Chili Cookoff on Thursday. (Emily Enfinger | The Selma Times-Journal)

Posted by The Selma Times-Journal on Thursday, April 7, 2016

Since the creation of the cook-off, more than $30,000 has been donated to local charities, according to leadership class member and cook-off co-captain Ebony Rose.

“We are excited this year to give back to an organization who has given so much to Selma and the surrounding areas,” Rose said.

This year the rules for the competition have been changed. To keep things fair, competitors can only make tomato-based chili — eliminating white chili from the menu.

Mayor’s Office team member Pauline Williams said because white chili was a staple recipe for the team, the rule change pushed them to create something what they call, “Selma Dynamite Chili.”

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t use the chili we used last year [to win.] They said there was no white chili so we had to do a little different twist this year,” she said.

Just a few tents over, the First Cahawba Bank team also changed its recipe but not because of the rule change.

First Cahawba Bank chief financial officer and team member Richard Walters said in the past their chili has been slightly sweet and a crowd favorite. He said this year the team decided to go a more traditional route in the hopes of ranking better.

“We think we’ll have a winner this year,” he said.

At 4 p.m. the gates opened for the public. Visitors had the opportunity to stop at each booth and try samples of competitors’ chili and vote on their favorite for a $5 admission.

Just after 5 p.m., majorettes from Meadowview Elementary performed. Afterward, the street remained cleared for a mascot dance off and invited children to dance. Sparky, the Selma Fire Department’s mascot, was the crowd’s favorite and won the dance-off.

“It’s just something fun for the entire community whether you’re 5 years old or 50 plus,” said Rose.

As the night came to an end, cook-off staff collected the final votes from visitors.

Vaughan Regional Medical Center won fan favorite, making it the third year in a row.

Tucker Family Dentistry won Most Spirited and third place. First Cahawba Bank placed second and Blue Jean Church took home first place.

Blue Jean Church team chef Ryan Bergeron said the recipe used was his. He said many people described the chili as traditional with a little spice.

“They chose me to be cook because they knew I could bring home the gold,” Bergeron said.

Bergeron praised the event for not only contributing to local charity, but also bringing the community together in an effort to accomplish a bigger goal.

“That’s what it’s all about. It’s about building the community, growing the community,” Bergeron said. “These kinds of events are awesome. They’re amazing because it brings people together.”