MSU chefs bring the heat to chili cook-off
MSU Culinary Services routinely participates in the Lansing Board of Water and Light Chili Cook-off Chili Cook-off, but this year’s event held a special meaning for Cummings: the proceeds were going to benefit, in part, cleanup efforts for the Red Cedar River.
“Our participation projects the image of MSU culinary out into the general public,” Cummings said. “And it’s kind of an opportunity to give back to the community because the proceeds from this event go to help cleanup Grand River and Red Cedar River, which runs through MSU’s campus.”
The 19th annual cook-off was held on Friday at Adado Riverfront Park in Lansing. MSU Culinary Services handed out samples of two chili varieties during the event, including a white chicken chili and a traditional red chili.
And they couldn’t resist showing off their Spartan spirit.
Cummings said his staff also worked to decorate their booth, which was green clad and complete with a giant blow-up Sparty. Two workers even donned American flag morph suits — full-body spandex onesies — to greet chili connoisseurs, inciting chants of “Go green!” and “Go white!” from the crowd.
Cummings said participation in the event gave cafeteria staff an opportunity to branch out, meet the public and try new things.
MSU Football Defensive Coordinator Pat Narduzzi was Chili Chairman of the cook-off, tasting entrees and greeting attendees during the first hour of the event.
Luis Segueda, a cook with culinary services, said he volunteered to come and help pass out chili, despite the heat and demanding work.
“I’ve always wanted to do this,” Segueda said. “It’s something different from a dorm, which is sometimes repetitive, and we get to show the public we can actually cook and we aren’t just a cafeteria.”
Social work graduate student Anna Robinson has frequented the chili cook-off over the years, and said she always looked forward to the cheap chili and entertainment the event brings.
“Not a lot of students know a lot about Lansing, people are afraid of it,” Robinson said. “I think it’s important to have these events and for students to come because we try to separate ourselves so much, but you’re almost too sheltered if you don’t go outside of East Lansing.”
Last year, The Gallery dining hall represented MSU in the competition and won second place for best salsa.
Although South Pointe dining hall did not win any first place titles in the competition, it did place third for best meatless chili.
“We started with base recipes we use in our residence hall systems at Michigan State and kinda of tweaked them and improved them a little bit and put our own personal touches on them,” Cummings said. “I think what makes our chili special is the green love we put in it.”
The only thing hotter than the summertime sunshine was the array of pepper-filled chilis at this year’s cook-off, which honored the U.S. Armed Forces and was made complete with the presentation of the branch’s colors.
Families, residents and students soaked up sun rays and live music in a spacious picnic area, surrounded by various booths. The booths offered different types of chili from numerous restaurants and businesses from the Lansing and East Lansing areas.
Lansing Board of Water and Light, or BWL, employees came out to taste the chili also.
Water station operator Ken Turner came to support the company and the event, but was taken with the flavors he experienced.
“I was running for some water,” Turner said. “There’s some hot and some good.”
Among the local businesses present at the event were South Pointe MSU Culinary, Buffalo Wild Wings, Soup Spoon Cafe, Red Robin and Menna’s Joint.
Chili judge and Director of External Affairs for Congressman Mike Rogers Tony Baltimore said the task of judging the chili was a difficult one.
“Each chili was very unique. The good thing about it is they were able to put it in categories for us,” Baltimore said. “The only thing lacking was milk for the hottest chili.”
Aside from a line-up of aggressively spicy chili, attendees were also able to witness contestants of the second annual BWL-Olympic Broil Chili-Dog Eating Competition race against the clock.
A mechanical bull positioned near the center of the park was a crowd-pleasing feature of the evening, along with karaoke, rock climbing and an obstacle course.
MSU graduate student Halie Kerver attended the cook-off for the first time this after hearing about it for several years.
“I’ve just been really full all day,” Kerver said. “I was really surprised at the turnout. It’s a good mix of people.”
A community affair
As a kick-off for the summer events to come, Baltimore said this event is really special and brings out the community.
“For them to give back to the community shows the continued support to the city of Lansing,” Baltimore said.
Menna’s Joint employee and Lansing resident Isaac Sprague said he enjoyed mingling with the people at the event. Menna’s Joint chili – which won 3rd place for hottest chili – was a five-pepper chili consisting of jalapenos, banana peppers, cyrano, green peppers, habanero and ground beef.
“It’s strengthening, I think, for the community,” Sprague said. “Meeting other people who work in different stores and restaurants, I think that’s really cool.”
Candidate for the District 9 Ingham County Commissioner Justin Hodge said the city should host more events similar to the cook-off because they garner attendance from people in the area and throughout the region also.
“It’s a big draw both to Lansing and Ingham County as a whole,” Hodge said. “We as a community should have more events like this to highlight Lansing as the capital of the state.”