Chili Cookoff Adds a Little Seasonal Spice

Smells of cumin, garlic, chili powder, and other spices fragrantly waft through the air the second anyone leaves the elevators or the stairwell to the hospital’s second floor. The buzz of laughter threads through the loop of quirky Halloween songs like “Thriller” by Michael Jackson and the Ghost Busters theme song. Outside, the weather is a crisp fifty degrees with light rain, clouds haloing the hospital, and the fall season palpably in the air. Inside, the warm McInturff has transformed into an assortment of themed booths with a variety as prominent as the spice. The booths steam like cauldrons as chili warms in large crockpots. UMC employees wear costumes matching their booth’s theme, spooning smoking ladles of chunky chili into small plastic cups for the sampling audience. Like many of the samplers, I test every booth’s chili—we’re encouraged to, equipped with red and blue tickets meant for judging the chili and a table filled with homemade salsas for the People’s Choice Award.

The employees serving behind the booths light up at the arrival of any sampler, explaining the qualities of their food, from what’s gone into it, and even how it should be eaten. Chad Curry, dressed as “Top Gun,” wears a green military flight suit and what seems like a plaster mini-model of a naval F-15 wrapped fully around his waist. He explains that his chili contains exotic venison with jalapeno. It’s delicious, of course, as all the chilis are, each in their own way. Some heap with chunks of hearty brisket, others with pebbles of corn or strings of New Mexican green chili. Some encourage adding Louisiana hot sauce to kick up the spice or dipping or crumbling miniature cornbread into the samples or bowls.

In the center of the room, a long line of tables holds large bowls of salsa, green and red, some as dark as merlot, a characteristic maintained from the blended peppers. Most of the booths’ hosts grin when asked if their chili is spicy. “No, not really,” they say, “We kept that for the salsa.”  They’re right. The samplers walk away from the salsa table flush, sweating, and fanning their faces but smiling through the endorphin-releasing spice. When satisfied, the taste testers confer in small posses, describing the qualities of the salsas, what they like and what they don’t, while dabbing beneath their running noses with small napkins. When in agreement, the groups drop their red tickets into voting boxes and return to the fray. There’s more to eat, after all.

Most stunning, perhaps, isn’t even the chili itself. The mutuality and community so common through UMC’s halls, offices, and exam rooms echo through the conference center with one major difference: the costumes. Ursula casually strolls between booths before stowing away behind her own, aptly named “Chillin’ Like a Villain,” clever in several ways. An inflated T-Rex, now a staple of Halloween tradition, flees wildly from a giggling young girl in an oversized pink shirt and pigtails. Their chase ends at the Jurassic Park booth, with a small, leering Compsognathus and hay ornamentation framing the booth’s posts. Others sport large sombreros and ponchos or grass skirts with Hawaiian shirts tucked into their straps or dangling gold chains like nineties rappers. Somehow, in a room with rappers, raptors, and randomness abound, the event has the quality of home—warm, merry, and conversational. In the home: family. Our UMC family, sharing, laughing, and taking a moment in an ever-spinning world, for each other and for themselves.

Congratulations to the winners:

Best Themed Booth –  “Jurassic Park” – Surgical Anesthesia Unit / Outpatient / Day Surgery / PACU / STAR

2nd Place Themed Booth –  “Chili Big Miracles” - NICU

Scariest Themed Booth – “Island of the Dolls” - EC

Best Individual Costume – Chad Curry as “Top Gun” - EMS

Best Group Costume – “Mardi Gras” – McInturff

Most Creative Booth – “Dr. Death” – Professional Services

Spirit Award – “Candyland” – PEDI / PICU

2nd Place Spirit Award – “Bone Thug Nurses” - 3 West

 

Best of Show Salsa

Pediatric Pharmacy

MSICCU

People’s Choice Salsa

Patient Accounting

2nd Place Salsa

UMCP Neurosurgery

3rd Place Salsa

UMCP Internal Medicine

 

Grand Champion Chili

OR

People’s Choice Chili

HR Talent Acquisition

2nd Place Chili

MSICCU

3rd Place Chili

Surgical Anesthesia Unit / Outpatient / Day Surgery / PACU / STAR 

 

OVERALL, the 23rd Annual Chili & Salsa Cook-off Ultimate Fundraiser

Inpatient Pharmacy

 

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Best Hospitals Women's Choice Award for Patient Experience, Mammogram center, Cancer Care, and Women's Services 2022
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