Competition heats up at 10th Annual Chili Cookoff and Carnival Saturday - Ahwatukee Foothills News: News

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Competition heats up at 10th Annual Chili Cookoff and Carnival Saturday

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Posted: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 1:45 pm

Beans are strictly prohibited.

Welcome to the world of competition chili.

The International Chili Society’s two-time reigning World Champion, Bob Plager, is the lead judge of this week’s 10th Annual Chili Cookoff and Carnival at the Ahwatukee Community Swim and Tennis Center, and Plager won’t hesitate to disqualify a cook for using any sort of bean.

“These are not your mother’s recipes,” Plager, who hails from Littleton, Colo., said. “This is competition chili. Traditional red chili; beans and pasta are strictly prohibited.”

Plager, 55, has participated in the Ahwatukee cook-off in some capacity the past seven years. He won the 2012 event, which qualified him for the International Chili Society’s World Championships, which he won. Plager then repeated as champion last year.

“There are a lot of ingredients that go into competition chili,” Plager said.

Plager’s recipes have evolved over the years since he started competing in chili cook-offs in 1980. But Plager, the ICS’s only back-to-back world champion, divulged two of his key ingredients to be one-eighth-inch cubes of tri-tip and two prunes that give the chili sweetness and add an appealing gloss to the gravy.

Plager also is a three-time International Champion in Red Chili, having won in 1996, 1998 and 2006 in Terlingua, Texas.

As for what Plager looks for as a judge, it is pretty simple.

“A good combination of meat and sauce,” he said. “A nice balance of meat and a good-looking gravy. The meat can’t be too chunky and the sauce can’t be too thick or too soupy.

“Most people judge with their eyes first. If they like what they see they’re more likely to like the taste, too.”

Plager isn’t competing at this year’s Ahwatukee event, just like last year after coming off the world titles. But his wife, Kathy, will have a chili in the running. Kathy took third place at last year’s world championships.

The chili tasting runs from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free and tasting kits (seven two-ounce cups) are $5 and include a vote for the people’s choice award. Cash prizes will be awarded to the first-place winners in the red chili, green chili, salsa and people’s choice categories.

Cooks from Colorado, California, Texas, Nevada, Michigan and Arizona — including Ahwatukee center director Susan Hyden — will compete this year.

The whole event takes place inside a carnival, which starts at 5 p.m. Friday and goes until 9 p.m. Visitors can buy wristbands for $20 presale or $25 the day of the event for unlimited rides. Without a wristband, tickets are $1 and rides will cost an average of five tickets.

The carnival will continue from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

“It’s a great venue,” Plager said, “and always a good turnout and nice crowd.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6549 or

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