Sizzlin' chef changes course for the win in chili cookoff

Howie Van Hall stepped away from his usual spicy concoction and won people's choice for the first time in the 8-year history of the Smith's Bayou Chili Cookoff, held on Cecilia Street in front of his house.
Becky Vargo
Aug 25, 2014


Fifteen chefs participated in the event, which was a fundraiser for Blessings in a Backpack, a program running currently in Grand Haven elementary schools.

“Yes, I’m excited,” said the man many agree looks like Santa Claus. He grinned from ear to ear as he hoisted his award and noted that his wife, Barbie, had some impact on his recipe.

Approximately $5,000 was raised for the program which supplies food for needy children on the weekends, said Rebecca Hopp, co-chairperson of the event with JoAnn Grotemat.

Hopp thanked the community for their support, noting that between 300-400 people turned out in sultry temperatures to sample the chili.

Jami Santigo took a break between bites while judging the chili samples with Rendezvous owners Bill and Dee Peak.

A volunteer for Blessings in a Backpack, Santigo said the money from the fundraiser would supplement their national distribution “and help us meet the needs of more kids.”

Santigo said it costs $80 to supply one child with food for the weekend over a 38-week period.

Nancy Manglos said the organization started in Grand Haven elementary schools two years ago.

It feeds about 230 students every weekend during the school year, she said.

Volunteers pack the backpacks every Thursday night.

Paul and Sara Heacox smiled as they dished up some of their Jerkin’ White Chili.

The young couple moved into the area just before Thanksgiving.

“We’re diving in head first into the neighborhood,” Sara smiled.

It must have been the right thing to do, because the judges selected the Ferrysburg residents as winners of the White Chili category.

Kirk and Gina Olson of Napierville, Ill., seasonal residents of Smiths Bayou, won first place in the Meek and Mild category. They also received Judges Choice.

Evert Kibble of Wolf Lake took Hot and Spicy, while Terry and Marilyn Benkert of Muskegon won best-decorated table for Breakfast with Champions.

The neighborhood cookoff started eight years ago to honor Smiths Bayou resident Dick Olmstead, who died of cancer.

“The first one was for Hospice, said Olmstead’s son-in-law Chris Marklevitz. “We’ve been doing a different charity every year.”





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