By ANGYE MORRISON
As part of the Downtown Statesboro Holiday Celebration, local residents are invited take up their spoons to enjoy some of the best chili in the area — all created by local amateur chefs.
Chili Town opens at 5:30 p.m. as part of the F1RST Friday Holiday Celebration on Dec. 6, with prizes awarded at 7 p.m. Chili Town will be located across from City Hall.
Last year’s winners of Best Overall and People’s Choice were Bubba Revell, Bobby Durden and Bob DiNello, who all work with the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office. They have been entering the competition since its inception, and say they have tweaked their recipe each year. But don’t ask them what their secrets are.
“It’s kind of a blend of recipes. We’ve been doing it for several years now, and we kind of pick and choose. We’ve added to it and taken stuff out throughout the years. It’s our recipe,” Revell said.
Neither Revell or DiNello would give any specifics about the recipe, except to say it includes “beans, hamburger meat, tomatoes and spices.”
“It’s just a basic recipe. It’s not super fancy. Yes, we do have 11,000 herbs and spices and other various rudiments, according to Ricky Helton. But we just enjoy it. It’s the process, friends hanging out,” said Revell.
Revell would say, however, that they use two different types of beans, which gives their chili another layer of taste, and a bit of a color contrast.
“It gives eye appeal,” he added. He also says they are careful to pay attention to consistency. Too thick or too thin, and it’s just not chili.
“We’re not making soup. When you get a spoonful of it, you want it to be on the spoon, not running off,” he said.
But the real secret to the chili made by this trio is the fellowship they enjoy.
“I think it’s the love for cooking and wanting to serve people that kind of sets it apart,” Revell said.
“You’ve got to enjoy what you do and we enjoy doing it,” DiNello said. “We put a lot into it over the years. It’s become something that we look forward to doing.”
Both Revell and DiNello say they enjoy spending time talking with other competitors and with the public as well. They decided, in the beginning, that the competition would be a great way for people in the community to interact with law enforcement in a different setting that would benefit all involved.
“There’s no better way to connect with people than with food,” Revell said.
The men have done well each year with their recipe, and say they have listened to public commentary — about their competition. The comments made have helped them to determine the tweaks necessary for their own recipe, but they say they’ve always gotten positive comments in their tent.
“Don’t change a thing,” was the comment they heard last year, Revell said.
The only complaint, DiNello said, came when the chili ran out. People also complained the cups were too small, he added.
DiNello, Revell and Durden gather on the morning of the competition to begin cooking, doing the prep work in DiNello’s carport. The chili is cooked in a big pot, over an open flame, and allowed to simmer for hours.
“We don’t cook ahead. We start cooking that morning so it’s fresh,” Revell said. “We cook it the old fashioned way, over fire, over flame, in a big old pot. No crockpots. It’s pots and flames and outside.”
Revell and DiNello say their chili isn’t spicy, but “it’s got that nice, warming effect.”
“I feel like ours is the way it’s supposed to be,” DiNello said. “Nothing against anybody else, but ketchup has no business in chili. There might be some great recipes with stuff like that, but we try to stick with basic. It’s supposed to be chili, it’s supposed to kind of warm you. It’s not so hot that you can’t eat more. I think it’s just spicy enough that it makes you want more.”
“We like it to be spicy, because you’ve got to have that flavor. If you don’t have that flavor, it’s not chili,” he said.
But don’t ask for condiments at their tent.
“We don’t put cheese and sour cream and all that stuff out. Just chili. This is not the salad bar. This is chili. And people like it,” Revell said. “A lot of them that leave will say, ‘I got to have another cup of it.’”
Both men agree that they never get tired of chili or of the fun they have making it. They are entering this year, and hope to win again, although they say that’s not the goal. Confirmation that their chili is good is nice, and they were honored last year to win two trophies.
“It was a surprise,” DiNello said. “Nobody can say they don’t like to win. It gives you some validation. But we’ll still do it anyway, whether we win or not. It’s fun to do.”
The winners of the Best Restaurant Chili category the past two years have been two of the Boro’s coffee shops: Cool Beanz won in 2017, while Three Tree Coffee Roasters won in 2018.
David Hoyle at Cool Beanz says he entered because he had gotten rave reviews on his chili from his friends, who encouraged him to participate. He also tested it at his shop, and customers gave the Texas-style recipe the thumbs-up.
His recipe does include coffee, as well as chocolate, but Hoyle says his secret is the fact that his chili has no beans — something that is common in Texas, where he lived when he learned to make it.
Hoyle uses three types of meat in his chili, and a unique blend of spices. He said that last year, he grilled the peppers he used for a different level of flavor, and used different meats than usual.
“I didn’t think I was going to win,” he said, laughing. He is tweaking his recipe for this year’s competition, and will do a test batch prior to the competition, and make last minute changes just prior to the event.
Lisa Joyner at Three Tree says their winning entry last year was a white bean pumpkin turkey chili. There’s no coffee in the recipe, which was developed by Kim Daley, one of the shop’s owners. It’s something they serve on their menu from October through February, in rotation, she added.
Three Tree has had an entry in the competition for the past three years, and Joyner says they’re entering this year as well. Participating in the competition is something she says is important, because they feel it is important to be a part of the community and participate in these types of events. She says they enjoy getting to rub elbows with not only local residents, but also with other restaurant owners.
“It’s just a fun atmosphere,” she said.
Joyner didn’t want to give too much away, but says this year’s entry is a version of something they are already doing at the shop, with some tweaks.
“If it turns out well, we will certainly serve it in the shop, since we serve soups from October through February. We’ll have that for sure if it’s a winner,” she said.
Joyner says she loves that there are different categories that entrants can participate in as part of the competition. Those categories include People’s Choice, Best Overall and Best Restaurant Chili. There’s even a prize for Best Decorated Booth. To sign up to compete, go online at www.visitstatesboro.org.
Chili Town is free to enter and free to attend — and tasting is always free. If participants want to vote for their choice for People’s Choice winner, it costs $1 per vote, and all proceeds benefit the Boys & Girls Club. The annual event is a good time for the cooks and for chili lovers of all ages.
“Anything that brings people together downtown is always a good event,” Joyner said.