TRAVERSE CITY — It takes Jamie Washburne about four days to conjure his award-winning seafood chili in his small kitchen.
Washburne owns Scalawags Whitefish & Chips in downtown Traverse City, and his seafood chili concoction earned top honors in its category in several Downtown Chili Cook-Offs. His creation uses cream, tomatoes, chili spice, clam juice, shrimp and white beans.
“It’s my way of giving back,” said Washburne, who also planned to make a no-bean chili this year.
Today’s 20th annual Downtown Chili Cook-Off is designed to warm Traverse City residents with a wealth of chili offerings. This year 13 restaurants planned to enter 20 chilis into the competition.
The event is the only fundraiser for the Downtown Traverse City Association. Proceeds go to funding free downtown events, like Friday Night Live and holiday events.
“I think it’s a really popular event because it’s so interactive,” said Colleen Paveglio, DTCA’s marketing director who prepares for the event.
Nearly 1,300 people attended last year. The event raised $12,000, Paveglio said.
Local restaurant chefs compete with chilis across eight categories. Diners vote for their favorites, and the winner gets a plaque and bragging rights.
White chili has become the most competitive category, with five restaurants vying for the win. Minerva’s, the restaurant in the Park Place Hotel, prepared to serve at least 60 gallons of its white chicken chili.
Aaron Meyers, the chef at Red Mesa Grill whose chili has won in the past, said the real trick is being able to heat gallons of chili at one time and transporting it from the restaurant to the hotel.
Meyer’s winning chili includes bacon, ground beef and pork, beans, tomatoes and onions, he said.
Some chili entrees are less traditional, such as Harbor 22’s Mexican-inspired creation.
Executive chef Ryan Mateling started brining a beef brisket for his chili nearly two weeks ago for his house smoked brisket and sweet potato chili with smoked tomatoes.