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Thursday, March 1, 2012

WMSE's Rockabilly Chili Contest Turns 10

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WMSE's loyal listenership guarantees the community radio station a decent turnout at any event it sponsors, but there's one event that reaches well beyond the station's usual base to attract the greater public: its annual Rockabilly Chili Contest. “It's an event that is really accessible to everybody,” says WMSE Promotions Director Ryan Schleicher. “It's not high-end. Everybody eats chili, and it's something everybody wants during a Wisconsin winter. So when you combine that love of chili with the WMSE supporters that come out to any event we do, you have the one event we do that really draws equal parts WMSE die-hards and the general public.”

Now in its 10th year, the contest has grown exponentially from its beginnings as a casual, neighborhood chili cook-off. In its first year, WMSE DJs and their friends provided the chili. Interest grew in the event as local businesses began providing chili in subsequent years. The competition is now limited to professional kitchens. To meet the demand for the event, which now draws more than 3,000 people a year, each restaurant is required to bring 10 gallons of chili, far more than even the most eager amateur chili chef could cook up in a home kitchen.

This year's contest features 46 competitors offering about 60 chilis, including 16 vegetarian ones (the Riverwest Co-Op is the long-running champ in the veggie category). Comet Café, Honeypie, Maxie's Southern Comfort, McBob's Pub and Grill and Roots Restaurant & Cellar are among the many returning restaurants. Although the bulk of the competitors are taverns, brew pubs or eateries specializing in comfort food (either upscale or downscale), the contest also features some more unlikely restaurants that don't regularly offer chili, including the Times Square Bistro & Pizzeria and the Mexican restaurants Hector's On Delaware and BelAir Cantina. Molly Cool's Seafood Tavern offers one of the event's most unusual entries, a seafood chili.

Tickets for the event, which runs 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, March 4, at the Milwaukee School of Engineering's Kern Center (1245 N. Broadway), are $10 and include two chili samples; a donation of three or more nonperishable food items for the Hunger Task Force is good for two additional samples. After that, additional samples are $1 each. The Milwaukee Brewing Co. will be serving beer, and WMSE DJs Jonny Z and Dietrich will be spinning rockabilly music throughout the event.

Schleicher offers some advice to first-timers who have never attended the event: Bring an empty egg carton. “It makes it much easier to gather all your samples if you can set them in an egg carton so you can find a nice place to just sit down and enjoy them,” he says.
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