Philomath Police Chief Ken Rueben loves chili. He loves to eat it, he loves to make it and of course, he loves to display chili contest awards in his office.
So when Benton County Sheriff Scott Jackson approached him with an idea for the Philomath Police Foundation to help organize the annual chili cookoff fundraiser, Rueben couldn't help but embrace the project. The local foundation's board was also excited.
"We made a formal agreement with them (Benton County Sheriff's Foundation) to co-host it," Rueben said. "Both foundations name a charity recipient for that ... each foundation has in their bylaws a requirement to donate a certain amount of money to a charity."
Rueben said the Philomath Police Foundation hasn't yet decided which organization will receive a donation. However, he did say that the recipient would be a child-related charity.
Last year's chili cookoff was canceled for administrative reasons, Rueben said. The event, which dates back to 2008, proves to be a huge undertaking for those involved and requires a lot of planning and volunteers to pull it off.
Current plans call for the chili cookoff to be staged on Sunday, Sept. 8, at the Philomath Frolic & Rodeo grounds at Skirvin Park. Rueben said organizers like that date because there are no other major events going on.
The cookoff had been staged in past years at the Benton County Fairgrounds in an area that limited the number of contest participants to 15.
"The nice thing about the Frolic (grounds) is it's conducive to having large crowds come in whereas the Benton County spot, it isn't bad, but it actually is a very confined space," Rueben said. "This is an open space and it's going to be in the area where the beer garden is and there's a stage there so we can have live entertainment during the chili cookoff, which will be exciting."
Rueben said the new space would allow up to 40 teams with 12-by-12-foot booths, but "we're going to try this year for 25." Even that number would be at least 10 more than the 15 or so that would typically participate at the fairgrounds.
"When you're at a chili cookoff and you have 500 to 700 people show up in a small area, what you've seen happen in the past is there will be 20 people waiting for chili and you don't really get to have that one-on-one time," Rueben said. "People like to ask questions like what are the ingredients and those kinds of things."
One of the biggest changes will involve the contest's format. Rueben said the latest plans call for the elimination of the categories that were based on the type of chili (best meat with beans, best no-beans chili, etc.). Instead, there will be four categories of participants — police departments, fire departments, support organizations (dispatchers, parole and probation, corrections, etc.) and businesses or nonprofit organizations (restaurants, hospital, etc.).
"The judging will be better because if you think about it, judges have to taste all of this different chili and all the different styles and it becomes preference," Rueben said. "So if you like chili without beans better than chili with beans, you might give extra credence to one of those. This way, we'll have a judge for the law enforcement chili and you'll be able to taste just five or six different types instead of having to taste 25 samples of chili for the different categories. That'll make it more fun."
In association with that change, Rueben said awards will be presented in a different manner, a move that in part will counter rising costs in those expense areas.
"We're going to limit that to just a couple of awards and give a revolving award that you actually get to take and keep for a year," he said.
A people's choice award will continue to be part of the event for visitors that do the tasting, but that also will have a revised twist.
"What we're leaning toward now is having one award for the people's choice for the whole event and then the judges for the different categories," Rueben said, stressing that nothing's been finalized just yet. "They had made it (in the past) so when you come in, you could buy as many as those little beans that you wanted. To make it more competitive, each person would get a bean and get one vote."
For those who know public safety folks, you might have noticed that many have a bit of a competitive streak in them.
"Cops and firefighters and public safety people, we're competitive and we want to win," Rueben said. "But on the other hand, we also want it to be fun. If the contestants of the chili cookoff are having fun, people that are coming into the event feel it and you see it when you walk around, people are very enthusiastic and selling (promoting) their chili out there."
An oversight committee for the event had plans to meet this week to walk the site and come to an agreement on how the booths should be set up.
The event will also feature various organizations from around the county and even neighboring Linn County that plan to put on exhibitions. The cookoff organizers have already lined up a band from the region to play at the event. Many other details need to be ironed out, including an idea to expand the number of brewery vendors that could sell their own labels.
Rueben said he hopes to see six or seven restaurant-type businesses involved. As of last week, there were four restaurants that had committed to their participation.
A noticeable change for folks who have attended in the past will be the start time. Instead of opening the gates at noon, the event will likely have a 3 or 4 p.m. start and go into the early evening.
Rueben said the time change could actually help the chili taste better.
"Before, to make chili on site, we have to make a minimum of 10 gallons of chili, which is a lot of chili," Rueben said. "We'd have to get to the place at 6 in the morning, prep things ... and by the time you do all that, your chili's only able to simmer for a couple of hours at the most."
It depends on the type of chili, but for some, longer simmering times are desired to create a stew-type of consistency and to bring out more flavor.
"So we're thinking about having it go from like 3 to 7 in the evening so people can see it more of a dinner-time opportunity instead of a middle of the day between lunch and dinner opportunity," Rueben said.