Community members came together to support a great cause at the 20th annual Blue Ball Run/Chili Cook-off hosted by Harley-Davidson of Michigan city. The event, originally dreamed up by one of the store’s past employees, marked the kick-off for the annual Toys for Tots drive held each year. All proceeds from the event go towards the organization, which helps deliver millions of gifts to children in need each Christmas.
"The cook-off is fun for everyone, and then I get to eat it," laughed store employee Tee Bettelyoun. "Plus, this benefits Toys for Tots. That's the best part."
This was Bettelyoun's second year participating in the cook-off.
"It's so much fun because Fish [Tom “Fish” Fisher] and I like to talk about each other's chili, so if I don't have chili in the pot, then I can't talk stuff about his chili."
While it's the customers who are competing in the cook-off, General Manager Jeff Haggerty confirms bragging rights are on the line for the employees.
"It's the staff that compete against themselves," said Haggerty.
Haggerty entered as a contestant in the past, but this year, he preferred to just partake in the tasting side of things. While he enjoys his chili with a little kick, Haggerty has a specific personal preference.
"My wife makes a buffalo chicken chili that's really good," said Haggerty.
"Everyone has their own recipe, and everyone thinks theirs is the best, so why not turn it into a contest, " said Bettelyoun.
Tom "Fish" Fisher has participated in the event eighteen out of the twenty years it has been up and running. He said white chicken chili has dominated more wins than any other recipe.
"We have five employees competing, so there are definitely bragging rights to be won. Last year, my wife won first place," said Fisher. “One year, I made it myself. That is the only year I took chili home with me. I was getting creative and added Smokey Links in there. Not everyone likes that. It didn't go well."
Fisher says there is a certain strategy involved. He stopped putting his chili at the front of the tasting line.
"I'm usually here first, so by the time the riders got back, it was gone. Now, I've been putting mine towards the end," said Fisher.
This year’s Judges' Choice winner Dave Kuehl has been tweaking his recipe for a while now. After winning a different chili cookoff, Kuehl saw the advertisement for the Blue Ball event and knew he had to give it a try.
"It's about the spices," said Kuehl.
Pat Bartos learned about the event from her cousin. This was her fourth year attending.
"It's a nice time and there are really nice people here," said Bartos.
Chili number three had captured her vote this year.
"It was a really good tasting chili. It wasn’t real hot –It’s a different kind of chili.”
The smells were enticing as riders came in from the cold after finishing up their benefit run. After checking in with Fisher, they all headed towards the motherland –the chili staging area. Grabbing their samples and sharing a few laughs, riders topped off their chili and their stomachs before heading back out.
Harley-Davidson of Michigan City will continue to take Toys for Tots donations. They are open Tuesday through Saturdays. For more information on donating, you can visit the Harley-Davidson of Michigan City team in person or visit their website at https://www.hdmichigancity.com.