Hundreds turn out for chili and charity

Photos by Joe Ungaro
James McDuffee and Jennifer Grady celebrate with their trophy.

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — About 500 people attended and more than $13,000 was raised Sunday at the Maplewood Chili Cookoff.
“This started back in my 500 square foot apartment in Brooklyn,” said Tom Mason, the “chili chief” who is one of the primary organizers of the annual event.

The first cook off was held 20 years ago and just close friends were invited to participate, Mason said. The one held Sunday was the fifth one open to the public and the first since the pandemic.

“I’m thrilled to be back at the chili cook off,” said Angela Matusik, who was there tasting and judging the chili. “I’ve been missing it the last two years. I purposely didn’t eat lunch today.”

The money raised at the event, which comes from a $40 fee to enter a chili and $25 entrance fee to taste the chili, goes to the MEND Hunger Relief Network. MEND is an interfaith network of more than 20 food pantries in Essex County.

Kimaya Salaskar, left, is awarded the trophy for best chili in the vegetarian category. Holding the trophy are Committeeperson Vic DeLuca and Mayor Dean Dafis.

At stake were cash prizes: $500 for the winners of best meat chili and best vegetarian chili, and $100 for the best chili made in the kids competition. The winners of best meat and best vegetarian chili also get their names engraved on the event’s trophy, which is an iron pot. The trophy is located in town hall throughout the rest of the year.

“It’s wide open,” Mason said. “Anyone who wants to enter, can enter.”
Thirty eight contestants entered pots of chili, each preparing 16 quarts, which were then judged by anyone who paid the entrance fee to the event. People were invited to sample all of the chilis and then vote on their favorites.

Most contestants had fun names for their creations – Big Trouble in Little Chili, Chuckwagon Chili, and Chili Vanili to name a few – and many wore team T-shirts or uniforms.
Chetan Vijayvergiya, a three-time winner, entered his Texas style chili. The meat in his dish included chuck and short rib. He broke with past years and used a pork stock to which he added Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale.

Photo by Joe Ungaro
Tom Mason, right, presents Lexi Muraca and Violet Hanson with their trophy for best chili in the kids category.

“Growing up in Texas, we would open up packs of Fritos and pour the chili in,” Vijayvergiya said.
While Vijayvergiya failed to win a fourth title this year, the top entry in the meat category had its roots in Texas.

Jennifer Grady and Jim McDuffee, neighbors who got together and used Grady’s expertise with spices and McDuffee’s knowledge of meats, pulled off the victory in the most contested category. Their creation was called Chili Nelson.

“I was really excited,” McDuffee said of the win. “It’s a great cause (MEND) and I’m working with a neighbor I love in a town that’s a great place to raise a family.”

The $13,000 raised was a $3,000 increase from the last time the event was held. The event has a board of directors, Mason, Aaron Kirtz, Sarah Klein and Benny Campa, and a number of sponsors including the Pollock Properties Group, Collectively and the Weekday School.

The following are the winners in each category:

Meat Chili Winners:
1st: Chili Nelson, James McDuffee and Jennifer Grady
2nd: Dr. Wilkerson’s ‘Ole Smokey, Hakim Wilkerson
3rd: Chili GPT, Perry Morton
4th Big Trouble in Little Chili, Moss Freedman
5th Merc Chili Queens, Mark Burdett, Maplewood Mercantile

Veg Chili Winners:
1st: Kama Chili, Kimaya Salaskar
2nd: Transcendental Vegetation, Rob Liano
3rd: Chili Ray Cyrus, Brandon Schmidt

Kids Winner:
Levi, Lexi Muraca and Violet Hanson

Chef’s Choice Winner:
Big Trouble in Little Chili, Chili 14, Moss Freedman