Spicy & Sweet:Enjoy culinary creations at Winter Games
Annual chili cook-off to ladle out Winter Games fun
SPIRIT LAKE — The 38th Annual University of Okoboji Games technically kicks off Thursday, Jan. 25, and things will be in full swing by the next day when the chili starts flying. The games' annual chili cook-off is scheduled from 5-7 p.m. Friday at the Dickinson County Expo Building and the Iowa Great Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce expects it will likely be another crowd favorite.
"We expect right around 2,000 people at this event," chamber events coordinator Kara Matheson said.
Aaron Jones with cook-off sponsor RE/MAX Lakes Realty said the business feels the tasty challenge serves as the kickoff for the Winter Games. He said they hope to attract more than 20 entries for this year's culinary competition.
As is tradition, competitors will fit a theme for the cook-off, be it through costumes, decorations or a fitting chili recipe. Previous themes have included rock 'n' roll, the old west and outer space. Matheson said Disney/Pixar was selected as this year's theme. Each year's theme adds to the overall event, according to Jones.
"There is typically no correlation, which makes the event so much fun for the public, but even more than that, so much fun for the vendors," Jones said. "We have tasted some really awesome chili over the years, but when you can walk around and see the vendors dressed up in costumes with booths that are fully decked out in the theme, it really creates an excitement and liveliness to the event. It's more than just chili tasting, it's about having a great time."
Jones said about 1,800 mugs have been ordered for the event and, if crowd estimates hold true, a few disposable cups may be needed. The public will tote their mugs around as they sample any chili recipe that catches their attention and will vote on their favorite.
"You really do get to sample a plethora of chili," Matheson said. "You can buy a $5 mug and you can basically have all-you-can-eat chili all night long."
She added anyone who purchases a mug in advance of the cook-off can skip the line at the door. Mugs can be purchased at RE/MAX Lakes Realty, the Three Sons in Milford, Boonedocks in Arnolds Park, the Spirit Lake Chamber of Commerce or the IGL chamber office in Arnolds Park.
Prizes will be awarded for the best booth, best nonprofit chili and best overall chili. Jones said some think of the best overall chili as being the best business chili, but he prefers to keep the category broad and remind all hobby chefs they are welcome to pit their recipes against other chili-makers in the community.
"We all have those friends that brag about it, but never can quite back it up — this can be their chance too," Jones said. "There are plaques and trophies, but mostly it's about bragging rights. But if you want to win, make sure to bring enough chili to last for the two-hour melee."
Matheson said some entries prepare around 10 pounds of chili or more. By evening's end, the votes will be tallied and the most popular recipes will earn their due.
"I think the crowd loves the exotic recipes that might move from the norm," Jones said. "Those are the most fun, and have every bit of a chance at winning. But it has to taste awesome and appease a lot of people. That is tough to do, but when it's done, now you have a creation like a new barbecue sauce because, not only is it different, it's delicious. So I encourage stepping outside of the chili comfort zone."
Coupons for 10 percent off chili ingredients from Spirit Lake Hy-Vee, Spirit Lake Fareway or Sunshine Foods in Milford are available to competitors at the RE/MAX office in Spirit Lake or the IGL Chamber office.
Chocolate Classic serves up shopping, sugar
SPIRIT LAKE — Even if the roads are covered in salt during this year's University of Okoboji Winter Games, there will be plenty of sweet things to be found on campus.
The annual Chocolate Classic and Galleria will be sure to appeal to the public's collective sweet tooth from 1-3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 27, in the Dickinson County Expo Center. Set up will begin mid-morning and by the afternoon, dozens of tables will be laden with sugary sweets — chocolate or otherwise — for the public to sample.
"The Chocolate Classic is one of those staple events that has been part of Winter Games for years," Kara Matheson, Iowa Great Lakes Chamber of Commerce Event Coordinator, said.
The confectionary competition is sponsored by the Ingvall Real Estate Team, and Mary Lynn Ingvall estimated she has been involved with the event for approximately 10 years. She pointed out the Chocolate Classic and Galleria showcases not only edible creations but businesses and retail items, such as beauty products and aromatic oils, as well. She said the combination of "shopping and sugar" seems to add to the event's popularity during the Winter Games.
"Since I started, we've really started adding people," she said. "I think this is one of the biggest events."
Just prior to the registration deadline, Ingvall had received 32 registration forms for the event. Ingvall said she expects close to 40 will be turned in by Winter Games.
"We still have people call us at the last minute," she said.
The competitors run the full gambit, according to Ingvall. The entrants range from restaurants and businesses to local bakers or candy makers putting their family recipes to the test.
"It's a little bit of everything," Ingvall said, noting the sweet eats aren't required to be chocolaty. "We call it the Chocolate Classic but it's all kinds of sweets."
She said the entries often become quite creative in their quest to be named the best.
"One year we had a deep fat fried ice cream treat," Ingvall said. "There's some that are just simple and others are more extravagant."
The event is open to the public and Ingvall hopes for a good crowd again this year.
"I think we had close to 2,000 people last year," Ingvall said. "It's not too crowded for everybody. It's just fun."
Matheson said each attendee will have the chance to vote on their favorite sweet treat during the Chocolate Classic and votes will be tallied that afternoon. The chamber will award a trophy to the top three entrants.
Ingvall said several of the competitors return each year and continue to show off their creative culinary prowess, and keep the tradition going.
"A lot of them bring different things than they did last year," she said. "And that's what's fun."