The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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October 2, 2011

Chilly day, Chili Night

Cold, rain dampen crowds at 21st annual uptown festival

BECKLEY — When it comes to a steaming cup of chili, some liked it so spicy it rivaled a three-alarm fire on the palate.

Other souls, less intrepid in the culinary world, preferred theirs a mite on the mild side with no after-sting in Saturday night’s annual Beckley Chili Night.

No one liked the rain.

But, as Mark Twain once penned, no one does anything about the weather but complain.

“The weather is not always conducive,” observed Beckley Mayor Emmett Pugh, as he stood on a sidewalk and watched the early arrivals at the 26th annual event.

“But we’ve had so many great chili nights in the past where the weather has just been tremendous. Occasionally, the odds are going to catch up with you. But there again, you still have people coming out. People really love this event. It’s a great event for downtown. A lot of volunteers pull together to make this thing happen, but you can’t control the weather.”

Inside a Main Street booth, Justin Cooper, of Diogi’s Mexican Grille and Cantina in Fayetteville, stirred a 35-gallon vat of the eatery’s special blend — onions, red and green peppers, white navy beans, and fresh chunks of chicken.

“It’s a nice little kick,” he said. “It’s a great thing to warm you up on a day like this.”

Nearby stood a 45-gallon pot featuring the traditional style chili, but Cooper insisted it, likewise, was unique.

“We don’t do anything really traditional at our restaurant,” he said.

“We do a lot of crazy, crazy, cool things. We explore our culinary world and play around with a lot of different ingredients.”

Standing in line for chili tickets, Darick Vass, of Monroe, Mich., wasn’t put off by the temperature that stood only a few notches above the freezing mark.

A cousin of his wife pastors a church in the Beckley area, so on a visit, he decided to take in Chili Night with sons, Trenton, 10, Steven, 9, and Nolan, 7. It was the first trip to Beckley for the biomedical specialist at General Electric in Michigan.

Beckley Fire Department chefs always draw a following, and this night was no exception.

“We make all three kinds,” laughed Capt. Kevin Price. “Mild, hot, and ‘Oh So You Think You’re Tough.’”

If you compared the hottest brew to a fire, Price quipped, “It would be a surround-and-drown.”

Not everyone was hawking chili.

At his booth, Edward Wicks sold some sugary treats under the label of Big Mary’s Homemade Goodness, named after his mother and business partner, Mary Wicks, in Beckley.

“We try to use natural ingredients,” he said.

“We understand a lot of people are having health problems, so we try to use the most natural substances to make the better products, So, you’re getting good quality.”

Displayed on the shelf were such dainties as fudge brownies and peanut butter cakes.

“After the chili, you do need a dessert to follow up,” Wicks said. “So, it does go well with the chili.”

Farther down Neville Street, a couple sold fresh vegetables grown on their 38-acre spread in the Pluto Road area — pumpkins, Indian corn, and red and green peppers.

“We’ve very proud of our pumpkins,” said Shirley Meadows, as husband Kenneth tended to a customer.

“The deer liked them, too. Business has been kind of slow. I think everyone is wanting something hot. But we’ve got some hot peppers, too.”

Jimmy Pettry and wife Emily, of Beckley, are certainly no strangers to the 21st annual event.

“We’ve been here several years,” he said.

 “Probably, the last eight years, we have come here. This is probably one of our favorite events that Beckley does every year.”

“It would be better if it wasn’t raining,” his wife said, “but it’s still fun. It’s a good temperature for chili.”

Indeed, it was largely a crowd filled with umbrellas and hoodies for protection against the cold, soggy evening.

“If the rain would let up, it would get really good,” said Jill Moorefield, director of Beckley Renaissance. “Most of our vendors showed up. I’m pleased this many people have come out so far.”

Years ago, when the city bought the old Lewis Chevrolet Co. building, the weather turned ugly so the event was held there.

“Who would have thought Oct. 1 would be like this?” Moorefield said.

“The carnival and wrestling were canceled. We’re making do the best we can.”

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