BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Once a year in the dead of winter, things get spicy in downtown Blue Ridge as residents and tourists alike experience a “chili” weekend in February.
The eighth annual Fire and Ice Chili Cook Off Festival, brought to you by the Blue Ridge Business Association partnering with the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce, kicked off Saturday, Feb. 17, and brought in crowds despite the weather.
Visitors to the festival were welcomed to take part in the judging of the chili cook off where the contestant with the highest number of votes takes home the coveted People’s Choice award.
The Fire and Ice Festival also now holds the honor of being the largest ice sculpting display in the Southeast. Award-winning National Ice Carving Champion Rock On Ice created many unique sculptures sponsored by several area businesses and demonstrated their difficult art form firsthand with live ice sculpting demonstrations in the park.
Official Chili Cook Off judges were also on hand to judge this years 16 contestants and to award first, second, and third place in four different categories.
Among the guest judges were Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives David Ralston, Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney B. Alison Sosebee, former celebrity chef Bob Evans, developer Doug David, and former chef and restaurant owner Kay Kendall.
“This is really one of the bigger events put on by the business association,” Blue Ridge Business Association President Cesar Martinez spoke about the festival.
Martinez explained that despite the unpredictable weather, this year’s festival saw a large turn out: “Better than last year. Last year, it rained actually more than this.”
Guest announcer Cindy Trimble took the stage at 3 p.m. for the moment that everyone had been waiting for, the announcement of 2018 Fire and Ice Chili Cook Off winners.
Trimble explained that judges were given five categories in which they had to rate each chili. These categories were aroma, color, taste, texture, and after-taste. Each category was rated on a scale of 1-to-10 and points from all judges were then added together to determine a winner.
The maximum number of points possible for a contestant to receive was 250.
The winners for each category were:
1. Grilling Gangsters with 176 points
2. Kelly Barton with 174 points
3. Pitstop Chili with 153 points
1. Boars Nesters with 175 points
2. Mercier Orchards with 162 points
3. Chuck’s Moonshine Chili with 155 points
1. Project Chimps with 178 points
2. Habitat for Humanity with 164 points
3. Hot House Missionary Church with 129 points
1. Chester Brunnenmeyer’s Bar and Grill with 168 points
2. Blue Jeans Pizza with 166 points
3. Blue Ridge Brewery with 165 points
Project Chimps, a sanctuary for chimpanzees, received the highest rating by the judges, and Trimble pointed out a uniqueness to their recipe: “This was a really unusually chili and you guys loved it.”
The recipe used by Project Chimps was “chimp friendly,” meaning that all the ingredients used were ingredients that the chimps could also eat and often do for their meals.
Finally, the coveted People’s Choice award was given. Out of 934 ballots turned in by visitors to the festival, Chester Brunnenmeyer’s received 185 of those votes, giving them the people’s choice chili award for a second year in a row.
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Boar’s Nesters (#17) are officially the Fire and Ice Chili Cook Off defending champs. Fresh off their 2015 1st place for individual teams win, this year they won the People’s Choice Award. For this year’s competition, they prepared 30 gallons of chili and ran out within two hours. Boar’s Nesters from Talking Rock are a group of friends led by Kelly Barton. The secret to their chili is the economy: turkey and chicken are cheaper than beef. Barton’s biggest worry in the competition was out-tasting T-Swizzle’s chili (#14). The cook behind T-Swizzle is Barton’s 17 year-old daughter. “Hey,” Barton says, “someone has to take over the business of chili cook-offs.” Indeed, they were right to be worried. T-Swizzle took 1st place in the Under 17 category.
Grandpa Bill’s (Bill Fry) chili (#6) won 1st place in the individual category. It is his second year in the chili cook off. Last year he won 2nd place in the individual category. No secrets coming out about his chili. FetchYourNews asked Cathy Welch, one of Grandpa Bill’s helper, about what made the chili so successful. She laughed and said it was a secret she would take with her.
Blue Ridge’s A2B Transit(#12) took home 1st place in individual teams. Their chili secret is a smoked twist on Elliot Wilborn’s grandma’s chili. They smoked everything, vegetables and beef, before stirring them into their secret chili pot. Wilborn also thanks local butcher Dean Bryant who stocks organic meat for the meat in A2B’s chili. Bryant’s store is in the Hammond Square building.
Hillbilly Chili’s, first year at the Fire and Ice Chili Cook Off saw them taking home 1st place for Best Table/ Tent Decoration. This group of three friends out of Ball Ground use five kinds of meat in their chili. They brought 15 gallons of chili to the cook off and ran out in one and one-half hours.
Best Bosses’ Chili (category added by Laura Love) is FetchYourNews.com. Saturday finally gave me a chance to find out the secret spice in Lisa Pritchard’s chili. But, since Brian Pritchard likes to talk, I will mention what he said, hopefully, briefly. First off, Brian said that they (he and Lisa) had won first place before they even got to the cook off, and, if the judges didn’t agree, well he would present himself with one of his old bowling trophies and stick it on his mantle. Brian said that cooking the chili was stressful for him because he cooked he stayed up until 1:30 cooking the chili himself. When FetchYourNews asked fact-checked Brian’s claim with Lisa Pritchard, she rolled her eyes. According to Brian, the secret in the chili is wine from Cartecay Vineyards and 100% fresh, hand cut vegetables. Lisa kept in the theme of Valentine’s Day. According to her, secret ingredient is love.
Judges for People’s Choice – You!
John Thompson of Morganton like Blue Ridge Brewery’s because it had a little bit of spice, not too much. It is his third year attending Fire and Ice. What he likes about this years’ cook off is the expanded space; it let people really enjoy being downtown without being jostled around. Thompson has competed in the cook off before. In 2015 and 2014 he cooked with Faith Presbyterian.
Mike and Tawanna Jones of Charleston, South Carolina were visiting Blue Ridge last weekend. They came to the cook off because, as Mike Jones said, “Chili is good for the soul.” Their choice was blue Ridge Brewery’s chili (#11).
Connie Sue Shelton of Blue Ridge likes Blue Ridge Brewery’s (#11) chili. Shelton, speaking like an experienced chili taster described the Brewery’s chili as veggie, meat, with strong undertones of beer and maybe cinnamon, but definitely beer. This year is Shelton’s first year at Fire and Ice and she loves it, especially the sculptures. Lynn Dwyer of Blue Ridge is a turkey fan, so her favorite chili is Twisted Turkey from Dial. Dwyer has been watching Fire and Ice grow during the four years that she has been attending the event. She likes seeing everyone coming downtown and being together.
Francis Young had just a tiny window to taste the chili because she was working at Faith Presbyterian’s tent. Young says #3’s chili was just perfect, not too spicy, not too bland with plenty of condiments like sour cream and cheese to mix in. Blue Ridge’s Faith Presbyterian didn’t enter the cook off this year having established themselves as superior chili chefs with last year’s 1st place win in the non-profit category. This year their tent served up necessities – water and tortilla chips. Their tent was the only place to easily find water. They were serving these up for donations to their Seamless Summer program. Seamless Summer provides over 9,000 lunches every summer to Fannin County children who miss out on healthy lunches because the schools are closed. The program also gives the children school supplies and books.
Michael Banner and Titus Arensburg of Rock on Ice carved the ice sculptures displayed downtown. All of the downtown businesses and organizations ordered the sculptures from them. It took them 10 days to prepare all the sculptures. Michael Banner, the owner, was displaying his skills for the crowd, carving three sculptures in 2 hours. He said that the weather at the cook off was perfect: cold enough to keep the sculptures from melting but warm enough not to turn people into ice sculptures themselves. When Arensburg was asked what advice he would give to future ice carvers, he said, “Stick to practice and wear a lot of layers.” Next weekend, Rock on Ice is travelling to the National Ice Carving Championships.
Firecracker stepped out in style with her glittery heart hoofs. Her herds mate Noah is something of a celebrity in Blue Ridge because he pulls Santa’s sleigh in Light Up Blue Ridge parade. Noah is a Percheron and Firecracker is half-Percheron. Percheron’s are the French equivalent of American Clydesdales of Budweiser Fame. Both horse are part of Nottingham Shire’s theme-based horse and carriage business.
Blue Ridge Community Theater members showed up as Storybook couples: Toni Creed as Belle, Rick Siefken as Beast, Everret Irvine as Wolf, Alison Tingley as Little Red Riding Hood.
FetchYourNew’s cub reporter Joseph checks out the sights from the height of a pony. Jubilee Farms of Opelika, Alabama. Beverly Miracle, owner of Jubilee Farms travels all over the southeast doing festivals. In fact, she stops in Blue Ridge two other times during the year: at Mercier’s Orchard during the fall and Light Up Blue Ridge in December.
Kyle Vincent played a good mix from today’s pop music to yesterday’s classics at Fire and Ice. This was his first year playing the event. Other venues he plays at are Blue Ridge Brewery, Fannin Brewing Company, Christie Lee’s, Chester’s and River Street Tavern in Ellijay.