Edgerton's flavorful festival

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Dennis Hines | September 11, 2015

EDGERTON -- Larry Patnoe has made it an annual tradition to match up his chili recipe with cooks from throughout the country.

Patnoe of rural Janesville has been participating in Chilimania  since the event began 26 years ago. He plans to compete again this year when the festival is held from 10 a.m. to midnight Saturday, Sept. 12, in downtown Edgerton.

“This will be the event's 26th year, and I have been in it 25 times,” Patnoe said.

Patnoe won the chili competition several times during the early and mid-1990s.

However, for Patnoe, Chilimania isn't just about the competition, but having a good time and interacting with the other chili cooks.

“It's more than just the chili,” Patnoe said. “It's a real happening competition. People come from a long way. I get to see cooks from other states like Iowa, Illinois and Texas.

“It's a good way to keep up with people that I only see once a year.”

Besides participating in the event, Patnoe serves as a referee for the competition.

“I see that the rules are followed. I follow around the cooks and the judge,” Patnoe said. “I've been a referee since it became a sanctioned event about 20 years ago.”

This year's Chilimania will feature hundreds of cooks such as Patnoe.

Eric Kuznacic of the Chilimania committee said cooks come from throughout Wisconsin and from Texas, Oklahoma and North Carolina. The event includes two types of chili competitions -- the Chili Appreciation Society International-sanctioned competition and a traditional competition. Recipes for the CASI competition mostly consist of meats and sauces, and the traditional competition includes recipes with additional ingredients.

“You have the hard-core people who travel, then you've got the local people who like to compete and take part and have fun that day,” Kuznacic said. “What a lot of people will do is compete in the CASI and then they will add stuff, like beans and whatever else, and enter the traditional side.

“We have about 100 judges between the two competitions. Every once in awhile, we will have a local celebrity judge. Last year, we had (Wisconsin tourism secretary) Stephanie Klett as a judge.”

Patnoe said he usually gets an early start during competitions.

“I like to start cooking early on. It seems like the flavors change from one point to the next,” Patnoe said. “You may taste the chili one time and the flavors will change about a half hour later. It tastes different each time. The flavors take time to develop.”

Patnoe uses a recipe that he purchased many years ago, which mostly includes ground beef and chili powder. However, he adds his own ingredients to the recipe from time to time.

“Since I haven't won in awhile, I probably should switch it up,” Patnoe said. “I do switch the recipe just to change it up a bit. It seems like the judges' tastes don't remain the same. Every year, it seems like everybody likes a different chili experience.”

Despite the time and effort that goes into chili-making, Patnoe said it's a hobby.

“I cook chili for family and friends,” Patnoe said. “I don't plan on selling my recipe because that would take the hobby out of it.”

Winners of the CASI competition are eligible to compete in the Terlingua International Chili Championship in Texas.

“A lot of times, being one of the later competitions of the year, a lot of these cooks are trying to get a few more points to place in the top 10 or top 20 to put them over the edge, so they can compete in the international event,” said Tom Reitz, a member of the Chilimania committee. “For the traditional cookoff, we give away prize money.”

Attendees are able to sample the chili recipes beginning at 3 p.m. to help determine the winner of the people's choice award.

“It's kind of a free-for-all. People can go and try as much chili or as little chili as they want,” Kuznacic said. “Within an hour, it's usually all gone. So, people have to be there at 3 p.m. if they want to try as many chili recipes as they can.

“We ask them to fill out their people's choice ballot with the booth number ... and that's how we award our people's choice award. So, everybody who comes to Chilimania and fills out a ballot is technically a judge.”

Chilimania also will include a salsa competition, best Bloody Mary competition and best booth design competition.

“A lot of the cooks also make salsa because it's got the same ingredients, for the most part. There's the booth design contest, so there's themes and people will dress up as different characters and have fun with it as a showman-type thing ... “ Kuznacic said. “Basically, we're going to have bars from Edgerton, Newville, Milton and the whole area, and we'll invite them down and have them make up their best Bloody Mary. It's based on the mix and the appearance.”

For people who want to get a little exercise before sampling the chili, the Chili Chase 5K Run/Walk will begin at 8:30 a.m. People can register for the run/walk and the competitions the day of the event.

“You can come and compete and run as fast you want, but it's also for people who aren't competitive,” Kuznacic said. “They can dress up and dress up their dog in a costume and have a mascot.”

Chilimania also will include a children's area and live music from 11 a.m. to midnight, with performances from the Monday Morning Dixie Band, Blooze Brothers, Aeromyth, an Aerosmith tribute band, and Back in Black, an AC/DC tribute band.

The festival continues to grow, Reitz said.

“The attendance has been like a stair step move with the chili cookoff and the fabulous music,” Reitz said. “We try not to bring in music from the area, so people can experience other top acts, regional acts and national acts.”

The cost to attend Chilimania is $7. Children 12 years and younger are free. The proceeds are used for scholarships for Edgerton High School students. Last year, enough money was raised to award six $1,500 scholarships.

“Edgerton isn't the biggest city, so people who apply have a pretty good chance of getting some scholarship money,” Kuznacic said.

For more information, go to Chilimania.com.

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