United Way Chili Cook-Off returns for 25th year

Michael Rosenzweig spent more than a day cooking his chili recipe. The Duluth Huskies owner explained that for the team’s inaugural entry into the Head of the Lakes United Way Chili Cook-Off, he wanted to make his own personal chili. His recipe calls for lots of garlic and onion with some beans and pepperoni, which adds “a nice flavor” to the beef; he cooks it slow and steady, he explained. The chili isn’t too spicy and people can try something else afterward without feeling like their mouths are too numb from the spice — although some people like that spiciness, he acknowledged.

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“That’s not the way I make chili. I wasn’t brought up on that kind of chili. The garlic and onions, you can never have too much of,” he said at his chili booth at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center on Thursday.

In recent years the baseball organization has made an effort to be out in the community more often, and signing up for the chili cook-off is part of giving back, he said. Team members have attended the event in previous years to eat the chili, and after a fun first time providing their own chili this year, they’re already looking forward to returning next year, he said.

“There’s so many great people who work so hard and here’s one of them right here. Taire does an outstanding job,” Rosenzweig said, motioning to United Way’s event planner Taire Lind Suliin standing next to him.

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Lind Suliin has been around since the inception of the event 25 years ago, first as a volunteer and now as a United Way employee. She’s worked for United Way for the past five years, but has volunteered for the organization and others like it in the community for years.

“I really think that some people really have been born to have the inspiration to help others and I think that I can see the gifts that I give back in my time, my talent and my advocacy come full circle,” she said.

Lind Suliin became involved with the chili event when her former coworker went to work for United Way and wanted help in organizing a chili competition. Her task as a volunteer was to find sponsors and work the contestant check-in, so she became acquainted with a lot of the chili contestants who compete every year, she said.

There were 32 contestants competing in this year’s chili cook-off, including three vegetarian chili options. All of the previous winners returned to compete this year, she said. The judges are a mix of food industry professionals and community members, and there is a People’s Choice award so everyone attending can have their opinion heard.

Minnesota Power took first place in the amateur division and won the People’s Choice award on Thursday. Whole Foods Co-op won the Spicy Spirit award. Valentini’s and Lutheran Social Services partnered up and won the professional division, along with the Most Unique award for “saltimbocca” chili. Fitger’s Brewhouse won the vegetarian division. Little Angie’s Cantina and Grill won the Hottest But Edible award.

The chili cook-off is a kick-off for the United Way’s financial campaign and proceeds from Thursday’s event stay local through the Head of the Lakes United Way, she explained. The chili event includes an expo for the agencies that benefit from United Way.

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A lot of volunteer work goes into the chili cook-off, she said.

“We have a whole range of people that this is something that they do because sometimes people can’t give a lot of money, but they can give their time and talents and they can advocate for us year-round by sending us volunteers or by coming to events like this, so it’s really important,” she said.

Written by Lisa Kaczke as published in the Duluth News Tribune.

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