By Pete Zamplas
The 19th annual Fletcher Chili Cook-off hit the spot — palates of contest judges and others— on a wintry day last Saturday.
The 17 contestants provided the 230 visitors free hot chili on a chilly and rainy afternoon that was just above freezing. Another 50 people were in the contestants’ entourages, in Veritas Christian Academy.
Donations were taken at the door, for improvements at Fletcher’s Bill Moore Community Park.
People made the rounds sampling chili at tables of 17 varied competitors. Each served a complimentary small cup of the tasty treat. Many offered toppings, such as cheese. Seven competitors were in the business category; the other ten were classified as individuals. All 17 vied for the overall honor.
The overall winner is Mike Wiemers, owner of Surf ‘n Brew Oyster Bar, for his chili with gobs of tender alligator meat. Wiemers served remaining chili from the contest in his restaurant, on Saturday. Prize money is $175, up $100 from merely two years ago. Each competitor got a $25 gift card, noted Recreation Program Director Hunter Jones, the cook-off coordinator.
Betsy Tankersley was judged second overall for her Bibbidi-Bobbidi Stew. Allen Pace was picked third, with Home Sweet Chicken Chili and also Home Town Chili.
The People’s Choice as voted by people at the event was Roy Dickerson, of Baabal’s Ice Cream Shoppe and Family Grille, for his beef and turkey concoction. Judges chose State Farm agent Tabitha Hamlin for Best Business Chili, Lori Jurgensen for Best Individual Chili, and Betsy Tankersley for Best Table Decor.
Pumpkin is an unusual ingredient, featured in Darcy Kennedy’s entry. She said she first tried it in chili a few weeks ago — as soon as her family gobbled up her prior batch of chili. She also served pumpkin seeds in the contest, for “some crunch.”
Clever chili entry names included T.J. Bobay’s Pirates of the Chillibean. Other individual chili competitors were Tankersley, Pace, John Olsen, L.K. Paden, Santiago Vargas (with Peruvian Chili), and
Business contestants were Wiemers, Dickerson, Hamlin; also Christopher Bon of J.K.’s Kitchen, Inc. in Arden, Jamie Grady of Heart Savers Chili and Tractor Pulling of Mount Olive, Shelly Maupin of The Storehouse, Joel Nevarez of The Groves at Town Center apartments and condos.
Organizer Hunter Jones, a 2011 Hendersonville High alumnus, started his current post in August of 2018. He said about one-fourth in the field were contestants in prior years.
Jones was not among the judges. But he sampled chili entrees, and passed on judges’ feedback to The Tribune. He noted judges liked how Jurgensen’s Vehement Veggie chili had much “heat” to its tangy flavor.
In contrast, Wiemers said he opted for “a savory delicacy, not (very) spicy.” He typically cooks the chili a night ahead of a contest, then reheats it. Chili and gumbo are regularly served in Surf ‘n Brew.
Keys to flavoring include his family’s “secret recipe” and plenty of “fresh ingredients” including garlic for some oomph, Wiemers said. He said fresh food supplies come in to Surf ‘n Brew six days a week.
Gator tastes very much like chicken. As contest organizer Jones noted, judges’ sample cups were numbered and anonymous — not identifying who made it, nor the entry name which might highlight its contents. The proof was in tasting.
Wiemers has more than 40 years of experience running restaurants. He grew up in western Illinois, and lived in Mississippi then in this area. He ran Huddle House locally, before opening Surf ‘n Brew.
His daughter Nikki Wiemers manages Surf ‘n Brew. Mike’s son Michael Wiemers also helped put together the gator chili entry. Tyler Moore, 12, was also on hand. He is Mike’s grandson, and nephew of Michael and of Nikki.
Surf ‘n Brew is at 235 St. John Road/Suite 10, in the St. John Marketplace plaza near Ingles and U.S. 25 in downtown Fletcher. It opened three years ago. Baabal’s, founded eight years ago, is nearby at 188 St. John Road.
Fletcher Mayor Rod Whiteside congratulated prize winners. Several Fletcher Recreation workers volunteered, including Rec Director Greg Walker. He is in his 36th year working with the department. On the side, Walker has run 25 marathons. He was on his feet less Saturday. First Citizens Bank of Fletcher sponsored the event.
Fletcher Rec’s next major event is the annual Father-Daughter Dance on Saturday, Feb. 8. There are two dances, at 3:30-5:30 p.m. for younger children then 6:30-8:30 p.m. Each daughter gets a flower, craft making, and a professional photo. The venue is Calvary Episcopal Church.
Admission is $18 per father or $16 if he is a Town of Fletcher resident, and $8 (non-Fletcher)/$6 (Fletcher) per daughter.
The Easter Egg Hunt is another Fletcher tradition. For more info on events, call 687-0751 or check FletcherParks.org.