Chili season in Texas is here and what better way is there to celebrate than to dive in to a delicious bowl of “red”? Residents of George West should take note, because the new Terlingua International Chili Cook Off champion is one of our own.
The famous chili contest in Terlingua announced longtime George West resident as the 2021 winner during its 55th annual cook off on Saturday, Nov. 6.
For Allen, and her husband Brent, the road to claiming the highest honor in the world of chili, was one that began out of necessity, with a little bit of ‘chili blasphemy’ mixed in for good measure.
In 2006, Allen and her husband, Brent, began her foray into cook-off competitions with...gumbo. They soon found out, however, that there aren’t many gumbo cook off competitions to begin with, and after that first year, Brent told his wife he’d like to start cooking chili.
“I don’t really like chili that much,” Allen said, which is quite a controversial thing to say, coming from the newly annointed chili queen of Texas. “But I told him it was fine. I’ll go and I’ll help you and cheer you on.”
Roughly a year later, the Allens had already made some waves on the chili scene, but at a cook-off where there weren’t enough cooks, Allen was asked to step in and save the day. That decision ended up being a fortuitous one.
“I placed,” Allen emphatically remarked, adding, “and I was hooked.”
Before chili cook offs, Allen wasn’t much for competition, having never played sports or participated in any other kind of competitive events. When she discovered cooking competitively, however, that all changed.
“I had a quite a competition streak in me I didn’t know I had,” Allen said.
Allen is the former executive director of the old StoryFest held in George West. Having worked for the festival for nearly 20 years, she decided to retire in 2008 -- so she could cook chili instead.
“StoryFest and Terlingua were always held on the same weekend,” Allen said, explaining that after her retirement, she began competing in the Terlingua cook off in 2009.
Allen clarified that the Terlingia cook off is not open to just anyone to compete. Cooks have to qualify at other “Terlingua recognized” cook offs across the country and rack up at least 12 points before qualifying to cook at Terlingua.
In 2014, after six years in competition in Terlinga, Allen placed as a finalist. During the cook off’s 50th anniversary in 2016, Brent took home the top prize, and Allen took home fourth place. Five years later, Allen finally nabbed the coveted trophy herself.
It’s not all just about that bowl of ‘red’, as the competition doesn’t hand out cash prizes. Instead, the money raised from entry fees, raffles, auctions during the competition is all for charity.
Allen and her husband cook for the charitable organization, Chili Appreciation Society International, which is one of the many organizations recognized at the competition.
For Allen, the competition, of course, is what hooked her, but what really kept her competing all these years isn’t the competition, but rather the people she meet along the way.
“I tell anybody that ever starts cooking chili competitively that it’s not about that pot of chili,” Allen explained. “It’s about the friends you make, because it’s like this huge family you never even knew you had -- and people that are not a part of that just really can’t quite grasp, I guess, how close we are even though geographically, thousands of miles apart.
“But we have that common ground of that pot of red and it just brings us all together and even though it’s competitive, it’s friendly competition. And you’re thrilled for whoever wins.”