Athens gearing up to compete for best chili, help Hospice
By Holly Hollman
ATHENS — It’s not a cherished family recipe because Emily Clem’s mother didn’t make chili.
Shoot, Clem’s concoction doesn’t even have secret ingredients.
It’s simply made, and warms an empty belly like a comfort food. Not too much beef. Not too many beans. Not too spicy.
“It’s not about secret ingredients,” Clem said. “It’s about getting the right ratio of ingredients.”
That’s why Clem thinks her fellow parishioners at First Presbyterian Church in Athens voted her chili the best and nominated it to compete in Saturday’s 19th annual Hospice Chili Challenge at Athens High School.
At the Hospice event, Clem will compete against about 30 other cooks for the best-tasting chili.
Her church decided to hold its first ever chili challenge to help Hospice, have fellowship and promote its mission work in Mexico, said the minister’s wife, Linda Hobson.
Seventeen of its members battled for the best batch. Cooks ranged in age from a sixth-grader to 80 years old. The recipes were as diverse. Some cooks added items like a can of pumpkin for thickness or cabbage for taste.
During judging, the church showed a PowerPoint presentation of its mission trip to Mexico.
“A lot of us went to the Chili Challenge last year and had so much fun, and we thought it would be a great way to offer a fun fellowship opportunity for our church and do something good for Hospice,” Hobson said.
The church’s challenge ended in a three-way tie, but at the event’s end, Clem’s simple chili won out.
“I’m redecorating my kitchen, so I may have to include a trophy case,” Clem joked, while mixing a pot of her chili last week. She received a red and gold trophy from the church event. “My family always said it was good chili, but I was surprised when I won. My mother never cooked it, so this is just what I’ve come up with on my own.”
Clem, an Athens High science teacher, said she makes chili often in the winter because her 16-year-old son, Scott, devours it.
Despite years of perfecting her chili by cooking it for the family, Clem didn’t vote for herself at the church challenge. She voted for a concoction that had venison.
In comparison, Clem’s version has beef, kidney and chili beans, mild Chili-O mix, tomatoes, onions, salt and pepper and dashes of hot sauce.
“I call myself a lazy cook,” Clem said. “I use ground round beef so it’s not greasy, and I don’t have to drain it.”
Church member Bonnie Noel and Hobson plan to help Clem make the three to five gallons she has to fix for the Hospice challenge. The community can buy tickets and taste each entry, so competitors have to make enough to last. The cooks will start preparing the chili at the church Thursday night.
“I think making it early gives the chili time to mellow,” Clem said.
Noel said the church will decorate its booth with stuffed chilies and bright colors. The cooks will wear sombreros and bandannas.
“Presentation is part of this, too,” Noel said.
But win or lose, the women know what matters is that the event provides Hospice with money to provide free in-home care to the terminally ill and their families.
The group also offers bereavement care and grief support groups to anyone in the county who is experiencing the pain of loss.
“I’m getting to help a great organization and have fun doing it,” Clem said. “I’m not nervous even though this is my first challenge. I’m a teacher, so I’m used to making a fool of myself. I don’t get nervous anymore.”
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