Even after living in Iowa for 18 years, Mady McKim can’t wrap her head around the idea of serving cinnamon rolls with chili. She’s tried it before, but the native east coaster still thinks it’s a little weird.
“That’s a first for me, I didn’t grow up in Iowa,” McKim said.
While she might be unfamiliar with an Iowa culinary tradition she’s on the fast track to creating a culinary tradition of her own. This weekend McKim will stage the second annual Chili Cook Off at the American Legion in Newton. Last year, the event drew nearly 300 residents, and McKim said she’s expecting this year’s event to be even bigger.
“I’ve always liked to do things like this,” McKim said. “This year will be easier than last year now that I know what I’m doing.”
The event will feature numerous door prizes, as well as a few big ticket items, including a flag flown over the capitol in Washington, D.C. donated by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, as well as a handmade quilt that will be raffled off separately. McKim said she’s been amazed by the generosity of local community members who are willing to donate to the event.
“It’s probably one our biggest events,” McKim said. “I find local businesses around town are very eager to give door prizes.”
McKim said she’d hope to have Ernst attend as one of her celebrity judges, but receiving the flag that’s been flown over the nation’s capital is almost as good, especially after Ernst promised to attend the event next year.
Even though Ernst was unable to attend, the event will still feature a few local celebrity judges, with Mayor Mike Hansen, County Treasurer Doug Bishop and the hosts of Energy’s Morning Jolt show. The judges will be slurping and sampling the best of what Jasper County’s local chefs have to offer. Eight contestants are already signed up to compete in the event, and McKim said she’s expecting a few others to throw their hat in the ring this week.
Event organizers plan to donate the proceeds to cover the costs of bringing The Wall That Heals to Newton. Scheduled to visit Newton this spring from May 31 to June 3, organizers have been fundraising to pull the event together. A half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., the wall is a traveling exhibit for the past 20 years. In 2013 Jasper County veterans groups brought the wall to Newton, and Bishop said he’s excited to bring the wall back this year.
“Jasper County has been recognized nationwide for our veterans efforts,” Bishop said.
With last year’s winner, Jasper County Assistant Prosecutor Peter Blink, bowing out this year due to a scheduling conflict, the field is wide open. Engle said she expects the competition to be stiff. On Tuesday Blink said he was disappointed he wouldn’t have a chance to defend his title, he was amazed at how fast the two and a half gallons of chili he made last year was slurped by judges and spectators.
“I wish I could go this year,” Blink said. “I would much rather be spending my weekend in the legion having a good time.”
Engle handles the social media side of Newton’s American Legion, and she said her goal is to get as many people as possible coming in through the door. After the Legion closed its doors temporarily a few years ago, McKim and a few others decided they wanted to do whatever they could to get residents coming back in. Events like the Chili Cook-off are a good way to generate interest in the American Legion, McKim said.
“This place has come a long way in the past couple of years,” McKim said. “Our goal is to keep these doors open. When it’s packed in here, that puts a smile on my face.”
Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or firstname.lastname@example.org