SPARKS — Forget what the weatherman says, it’ll be rather chili in the heart of Sparks this weekend.
The Reno-Sparks Regional Chili Cook-off is slated for today at Victorian Square, with about 25 competitors battling to earn a spot in the International Chili Society’s (ICS) national competition.
John Medcraft has held chili cook-offs through the ICS in the area for the past decade, excluding last year. He was pulled into the cooking culture by his wife Voni, who was already an ICS member when they met.
“She’d take me to chili cook-offs and I was always an inquisitive pain in the butt,” Medcraft said. “Finally she said to me, ‘Why don’t you just start cooking?’ and I said, ‘I will.’”
Today’s event will feature competitions in each of the three ICS categories: red chili, chili verde and salsa. Winners of each event will compete in the World’s Chili Championship Cook-off Sept. 30 through Oct. 2 in New Hampshire, which Medcraft considers the ultimate feat for a chili chef.
“That’s why there’s always an entry fee and why there’s usually prize money,” Medcraft said.
One Reno resident, Dione Cooley, has won at the world championships. In fact, she and her husband, Skip, have done so numerous times. Dione was the 2002 Salsa winner, with her husband coming in second place.
And the couple shows no signs of slowing down. The 28-year chili chefs have already qualified for the championship this year — in all three categories, no less.
“I love the friendship, we know people all over the country,” Cooley said, explaining what draws her to the competitions. “(My husband and I) also love to travel. It’s a good excuse to go on an airplane and go somewhere.”
Because the Cooleys qualified for the championship early this year, they have been traveling around the country as scorekeepers for various cook-off events. Cooley said she’ll be contributing her prowess at the Victorian Square event today.
When asked if she had any suggestions on how to make an award-winning bowl of chili, Cooley shielded her know-how with humor.
“Always stir to the left,” she quipped. “That’s kind of an inside joke. But really, careful preparation is important, and balanced spices.”
But chili won’t be the only thing brewing today. O’skis Pub and Grille owner Cindy Pisiewski said various sponsors and vendors at Victorian Square have cooked up a wealth of activities for the community.
“There will be water balloon tosses, hoola-hooping for kids, some adult competitions … We have a whole lot going on,” Pisiewski said.
Some of the sponsors include Great Basin Brewing Co., Blind Onion Pizza and Pub, The Sparks Tribune and Bud Light.
Pisiewski said to expect live entertainment on Great Basin’s outdoor stage, as well as discounted rates at the nearby Sparks Heritage Museum and a separate chili cook-off among the sponsors.
“Again, we’re trying to make it a multi-day,” she said. “We want it to be something you can take the whole family to.”
All proceeds will go to the local Kiwanis Children’s Program, whose members will be selling $5 chili tasting kits at the event for attendants who want a taste test.
The event runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today in Victorian Square.