Chili Challenge draws hungry crowd

Jordan Beck | Daily Press
From right, Escanaba Upper Elementary School fourth-grader Noah Bizeau takes a cup of chili from Sara LaMarch as Jack Willette looks on at the Soup’r Chili Challenge Tuesday. Bizeau said his favorite part of this event was “getting tons of chili and soup.”

Jordan Beck | Daily Press From right, Escanaba Upper Elementary School fourth-grader Noah Bizeau takes a cup of chili from Sara LaMarch as Jack Willette looks on at the Soup’r Chili Challenge Tuesday. Bizeau said his favorite part of this event was “getting tons of chili and soup.”

ESCANABA — Hundreds of people in the Escanaba area “said yah to da U.P.” — and the United Way of Delta County (UWDC) — by attending the Yooper-themed 23rd Annual Soup’r Chili Challenge. The event was held at the U.P. State Fairgrounds’ Ruth Butler Building Tuesday evening.

All proceeds from the Soup’r Chili Challenge go to the UWDC. The organization’s executive director, Julie Mallard, said the primary goal of the event is to raise community awareness of the UWDC’s fall fundraising campaign.

“This is the kickoff for our fall campaign,” Mallard said.

The Soup’r Chili Challenge features a different theme each year. The theme this year had been suggested to Mallard by multiple participating chefs over the years.

“We decided this would be the year to do ‘Yooper’ and have fun with it,” Mallard said.

Jordan Beck | Daily Press
Hundreds of people in the Escanaba area “said yah to da U.P.” — and the United Way of Delta County — by attending the 23rd Annual Soup’r Chili Challenge at the U.P. State Fairgrounds’ Ruth Butler Building Tuesday. The event was Yooper-themed this year.

Jordan Beck | Daily Press Hundreds of people in the Escanaba area “said yah to da U.P.” — and the United Way of Delta County — by attending the 23rd Annual Soup’r Chili Challenge at the U.P. State Fairgrounds’ Ruth Butler Building Tuesday. The event was Yooper-themed this year.

This year, the Judge’s Choice award for best chili in the restaurant category went to first-time Soup’r Chili Challenge participant Jack’s Restaurant for its brisket chili. Bobbi Ryan of Jack’s attributed the win to the unique ­flavor of the restaurant’s chili.

“It was something different,” Ryan said.

In the Judge’s Choice non-restaurant category, the title of best soup went to the Delta County Credit Union for its brown beef noodle soup. Sue Farrell of the Delta County Credit Union said she was happy to get involved with this year’s Soup’r Chili Challenge.

“It’s always nice to help out the community and contribute to this event on behalf of the credit union,” she said.

Another credit union in the area won both the People’s Choice award for best chili and the Judge’s Choice award in the non-restaurant category for best chili. Jackie Swille-Arnold of the U.P. State Credit Union said its hamburger chili’s name was a sarcastic tribute to a FOX sports announcer.

Jordan Beck | Daily Press
From left, representatives of Jack’s Restaurant, U.P. State Credit Union, Delta County Credit Union, and the Firekeeper’s Restaurant celebrate after winning awards at the 23rd annual Soup’r Chili Challenge Tuesday.

Jordan Beck | Daily Press From left, representatives of Jack’s Restaurant, U.P. State Credit Union, Delta County Credit Union, and the Firekeeper’s Restaurant celebrate after winning awards at the 23rd annual Soup’r Chili Challenge Tuesday.

“We called it ‘Shut the Buck Up Chili’ in ‘honor’ of Joe Buck,” she said.

According to Swille-Arnold, nostalgia played a role in the success of her credit union’s chili.

“It was like an old-fashioned chili, like (attendees’) mom or grandma might have made,” she said.

The U.P. State Credit Union was not the only Soup’r Chili Challenge participant to win in multiple categories this year. The Firekeeper’s Restaurant won both the People’s Choice award for best soup and the Judge’s Choice award in the restaurant category for best soup.

Marco Arteaga, executive chef for the Island Resort and Casino (where the Firekeeper’s Restaurant is located), gave his thanks to the Soup’r Chili Challenge’s judges and attendees for their support.

Jordan Beck | Daily Press
From left, Bay Pines Center Chefs Tom Wetthuhn and Matt Wiles, along with Bay Pines Center Youth Specialist Becky Barnhart, serve Wayne Johnson a cup of chili at the Soup’r Chili Challenge Tuesday. The center’s booth, “Camp Soggy Bottom,” won the People’s Choice Award for best booth display.

Jordan Beck | Daily Press From left, Bay Pines Center Chefs Tom Wetthuhn and Matt Wiles, along with Bay Pines Center Youth Specialist Becky Barnhart, serve Wayne Johnson a cup of chili at the Soup’r Chili Challenge Tuesday. The center’s booth, “Camp Soggy Bottom,” won the People’s Choice Award for best booth display.

“(It’s) a great honor to win this year,” he said.

For 2017, the Firekeeper’s Restaurant brought a creamy chicken enchilada soup to the Soup’r Chili Challenge.

“I wanted to try something trendy and new,” Arteaga said.

The People’s Choice award for best booth display went to Bay Pines Center, which dubbed their booth “Camp Soggy Bottom.” Youth Specialist Becky Barnhart said a hunting camp-themed booth was a natural fit for this year’s Soup’r Chili Challenge.

“What do Yoopers do? They live in a camp (for) hunting season,” she said.

Bay Pines’ theme extended to its serving area, which was designed to look like an outhouse. Barnhart said this attracted a great deal of attention from Soup’r Chili Challenge attendees.

“(There’s) a lot of laughing — a lot of compliments,” she said.

The Escanaba Elks Lodge’s booth, which was decorated by Jack Willette and Angie Shiverski, was also made to look like a hunting camp.

“We just brought different items from our houses,” Willette said.

Two different hunting-themed movies were represented at the Elks Lodge’s booth. Shiverski brought a signed photo of “Escanaba in da Moonlight” star Jeff Daniels to display there, and a TV set up in the booth played “Anatomy of a Hunter” — a documentary made by Willette’s brother Larry Willette.

“He produced and directed that movie,” Willette said.

Both soups and chili were judged by local home-brewing group Bay de Noc Brewers at this year’s Soup’r Chili Challenge. Josh Marenger, the club’s vice president, said the group already had a strong connection to the UWDC.

“We work with… the United Way for UPtoberfest,” he said. This beer festival is one of the UWDC’s biggest fundraisers each year.

According to Marenger, the group’s experience with beer tasting made them a good fit for judging the Soup’r Chili Challenge.

“We also have some experience with judging beers, so we’re used to using our palates,” he said.

Marenger said he was impressed with the diverse selection of chili available at the Soup’r Chili Challenge this year.

“There’s certainly a wide variety of takes on chili,” he said.

Escanaba Upper Elementary School fourth-grader Noah Bizeau, who attended the Soup’r Chili Challenge for the first time this year, also enjoyed this aspect of the event. Specifically, he noted his favorite thing about the event was “getting tons of chili and soup.”

Other Soup’r Chili Challenge attendees, such as Justin Alwood of Escanaba, had been to the event before 2017.

“I’ve been probably coming here for… the last five years,” Alwood said.

Alwood said he is fond of the creativity shown at the event.

“I enjoy it every year… I like the themes that they come (up) with,” he said.

Mary Tromeley, who is a resident of the Perkins area, said she appreciates the opportunity the Soup’r Chili Challenge gives her to sample different soups and chili while supporting the UWDC.

“I think it’s a good cause,” she said.

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