Chili Chase 5K and cook-off: Bringing the heat, uniting community

Event will host at least 15 chili cook-off competitors

The Chili Chase 5K Trail Run & Cook-off starts at 10 a.m. Saturday at Iris Park. More than 15 groups are expected to compete in the Chili cook-off, which is in its seventh year. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Backcountry Experience

The Chili Chase 5K Trail Run & Cook-off starts at 10 a.m. Saturday at Iris Park. More than 15 groups are expected to compete in the Chili cook-off, which is in its seventh year.

Want to start a debate with the power to both unite the community and reveal its cultural and regional diversity at the same time? Start talking chili. Should it have beans in it? Should it be red or green? Vegan, anyone?

The Chili Chase 5K Trail Run & Cook-off, starting at 10 a.m. Saturday at Iris Park, was founded by Ben Rockis, owner of Backcountry Experience, and was created with the intention of bringing together local businesses, restaurants and the community through a little culinary competition and running race.

“It was a way for me to combine my personal passion for cooking and what Backcountry was doing with running,” Rockis said.

Cooking is a passion for Rockis and a way to ease the day-to-day stress of running a business, he said. He can often be found behind the grill cooking during Backcountry-hosted Wednesday night group runs, at the Vallecito Nordic Demo and, of course, at this year’s chili cook-off.

“I’m not sure what I’ll be cooking this year. I’m going on a backpacking trip to think about it, but I have been doing a Texas red chili, which of course has no beans in it. I like to add a little Cincinnati flare to it, though, by adding cinnamon,” Rockis said.

The event will host at least 15 chili cook-off competitors, including Backcountry Experience; Carey Carlson of Osprey Backpacks; Dan Howell, co-owner of Serious Texas Bar-B-Q, and his “Serious Texas Honkin’ Hog Chili”; Blaine Bailey of Carver Brewing Co.; Durango Nature Studies and its “Three Spicy Sisters”; the San Juan Mountain Association and its “Mean Mama Red Chili”; and local amateur cooks.

The best part of it all, according to Margaret Hedderman, Backcountry Experience’s marketing director, is the incredible variety in chili.

“There are people coming from different areas of the country bringing variety and different flavors that you can’t get locally,” she said. “Plus, there’s the brief glory of winning. There will be a $100 gift card awarded to best green, best red and best overall chili. And then, there is the belt. The belt will go to the overall winner.”

The belt is something akin to a World Wrestling Entertainment belt. Think heavy, giant gold buckle and diamond-like jewels.

Proceeds from the 5K race registration and chili cook-off ticket sales will go to benefit the San Juan Mountain Association. Early registration for the race will continue until Friday at $20, while day-of registration is $25. Tickets to taste and cast your vote for the best chili are $5.

“We were looking for ways to promote and get small businesses within the community involved in supporting one another,” Rokis said of the event. “We brought in the San Juan Mountain Association to give them more attention to what they do. They are the bridge between the Forest Service and BLM and the community, and we wanted to spotlight that while having a fun time.”

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The overall winner of the Chili Chase Cook-off wins a heavy belt with a bejeweled gold buckle not unlike the kinds worn by pro wrestlers. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Backcountry Experience

The overall winner of the Chili Chase Cook-off wins a heavy belt with a bejeweled gold buckle not unlike the kinds worn by pro wrestlers.

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