Rockabilly Chili Contest serves up a spicy fundraiser

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The ninth annual Rockabilly Chili Contest offers chilies from 50 competitors. Photo courtesy of Ryan Schleicher.

On the Marquette campus, our taste buds are exposed to limited chili options — it’s either dining hall chili, or Real Chili. This weekend presents a tasty opportunity to expose them to more than 60 different chilies at the Rockabilly Chili Contest.

WMSE 91.7 FM will present its ninth annual Rockabilly Chili Contest on Sunday, March 6 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Milwaukee School of Engineering’s Kern Center, 1245 N. Broadway St.

The contest will feature 50 competitors, including Milwaukee Ale House, Bar Louie, The Wicked Hop, Chili Lili’s Chili Bar and Outpost Natural Foods. Among these competitors, the contest will offer 63 different chilies, including 44 meat chilies and 19 vegetarian/vegan chilies.

To enter the contest, WMSE promotions director Ryan Schleicher said patrons must purchase a $7 entrance ticket, and can taste chilies for $1 apiece. After tasting, the attendees can vote for their favorite chilies based on four categories: best meat chili, best vegetarian chili, best heat and best table presentation and display. The winning competitor from each category earns a year’s worth of bragging rights.

Schleicher said the competitors must be a restaurant, business or catering company in order to participate. Additionally, each competitor must bring a minimum of ten gallons of chili to the contest.

Sheila Pufahl-Bettin,  manager of Brewed Café, 1208 E. Brady St., said she hopes the restaurant can hold onto their title of “best table presentation and display” from last year’s competition. Having participated for three years, Pufahl-Bettin said the event is one the café takes seriously, planning months in advance.

“We’re all about supporting local independent artists, music and other community projects,” Pufahl-Bettin said. “We’re an independent and local business and we really take pride in everything that we make here.”

Pufahl-Bettin said the café spent weeks perfecting a new vegetarian chili recipe for the contest. While she was unwilling to reveal the secret of the recipe, she said it consists of unexpected ingredients which she anticipates will stir up the competition.

For Marquette students, this competition seems to be missing one major player: Real Chili, a campus standard for decades.

Phil Salvucci, manager of Real Chili, said the Marquette late-night hot spot has never participated in the Rockabilly Chili contest because its owner “never felt the need to.” He said Real Chili isn’t qualified for the contest, although he did not elaborate on why.

In addition to the event’s obvious focus on chili, Schleicher said the contest also offers a unique social environment. Two of the station’s DJs will play rockabilly and upbeat country music throughout the event, so attendees gain exposure to new food, restaurants and music simultaneously.

This is the second year that the contest will also act as the release event for a station-sponsored batch of hot sauce, made by Milwaukee’s MBF (Man’s Best Friend) Sauces. This year’s sauce is called “Rockabilly Red,” and is available for purchase at the event with a $10 donation.

Also available at the contest is the station’s first Rockabilly Chili Cookbook.  Schleicher said WMSE gathered exactly 91.7 recipes from listeners, DJs, supporters and even competitors in order to compile the book.

Schleicher said these features, along with entrance and sample tickets, are designed to work as a fundraiser for the station. As a nonprofit radio service offered by MSOE, WMSE 91.7-FM’s staff is comprised of community volunteers and is funded by community membership contributions and area businesses through program underwriting.

The event also contributes to Hunger Task Force, offering two free chili sample tickets in exchange for two non-perishable food items. Schleicher said the contest collected 800 pounds of food last year.

“We like to turn our gluttonous event into something helpful for other people,” he said.