UHCL The Signal
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University of Houston-Clear Lake
2700 Bay Area Blvd., Box 456
Houston, TX 77058
UHCL’s annual Chili Cook-Off is one of UHCL’s longest traditions. Started in 1988, it is a family-friendly event that brings together the community, students and faculty in a competition for the best chili. This year marked the outdoor event’s 29th year, one year was canceled due to bad weather, and it also marked the celebration of UHCL’s mascot Hunter the Hawk’s fifth birthday.
Andrew Reitberger, director of student life, although unsure of the true reason, speculates on why chili was originally chosen for the cook-off theme.
“I would speculate it might be because there is a chili cook-off at JSC [Johnson Space Center], and we had a lot of students that worked there,” Reitberger said.
The 29thannual Chili Cook-Off ended up being the coldest cook-off on record. This year’s event was held Saturday, April 7. The temperature dropped below 50 degrees with strong wind — strong enough that some team members had to hold down their tents to ensure the tents would not fly away. More weights were brought out to weigh down the already weighted down tents. The catchphrase of the day was “chili when it’s chilly.” Even with the cold weather, people were still out having a good time tasting chili and playing the many games available.
Each booth had a different theme, and some of the members of each team dressed up in costumes for the event. Different booth themes included: scientists, movies such as “Star Wars” and “Black Panther,” a circus, “Harry Potter,” and the Houston Astros.
Last year’s first-place winners, UHCL’s Fusion Dance, had a “Black Panther” theme this year, and one of the members even wore the “Black Panther” mask. Fusion Dance won the popular vote last year, earning them a name on the Student Government Association (SGA) trophy. The dance members were excited about the competition this year despite the cold weather and started the day with some thoughts about the possibility of winning for the second year in a row.
“I would hope to win again, yes, because then we would be continually recognized as the best chefs of chili on campus,” said Michele Gibson, communication major and a member of Fusion Dance. “As a cook, I have big shoes to fill, so hopefully.”
Another dance member, Amrita Chatarpal, business administration and health administration major, was more than just hopeful, she was confident in their ability to win for the second year in a row.
“Of course we are going to win,” Chatarpal teased. “Have you tried our chili?”
One of the teams that had to hold down their tent until extra weights were brought out was the UHCL Student Chapter of Texas Council of Elementary Science (SC-TCES). It was the team’s first year competing in the cook-off and they had a science theme. One of the team members dressed as Ms. Frizzle, the teacher from “The Magic School Bus.”
Laura Ortiz, president-elect of the organization and a 4-8 science major, did not seem too worried about being first-timers and believed they would win because they had the perfect chili.
“We hypothesized and concocted the perfect chemical equation of ingredients to satisfy your taste buds,” Ortiz quipped.
In addition to chili tasting, the event offered several other activities such as rock climbing, games such as bingo, giant inflatable slides and a live DJ. There was a celebration for Hunter the Hawk’s fifth birthday including a cake that attendees were invited to share with him.
At the end of the day, the judges made their decisions:
- 1st place Judged Chili — HAACwarts School of Advisory & Wisdom (Hawk Academic Advising Council)
- 2nd place Judged Chili — World Series Champs! (Legal Studies Association & Business Oriented Students Society)
- 3rd place Judged Chili — MENA Chefs (Model Arab League Student Organization)
- Judged Spirit — It Takes Two to Mango (Orientation & New Student Programs)
- Best Chili – Popular Vote — HAACwarts School of Advisory & Wisdom (Hawk Academic Advising Council)
- Spirit Award – Popular Vote — HAACwarts School of Advisory & Wisdom (Hawk Academic Advising Council)
- Cook’s Choice – Popular Vote — Hawk Leadership Institute
- SGA Award — World Series Champs! (Legal Studies Association & Business Oriented Students Society)
Bernadina Streeter, senior academic advisor in the College of Education, was a team member of HAACwarts School of Advisory and Wisdom. This year marked the team’s first time competing, and the team took home three awards including first place for best chili in both the judged and popular vote. Streeter was excited to compete and interact with students.
“It was fabulous,” Streeter said. “It was fun to interact with students in a different, less serious way than we usually do. It was mostly students and families; everyone was having fun. We had jelly potions, chocolate frogs and floating candles.”
Reitberger estimates there were about 300 people in attendance at this year’s cook-off.
“It was a great event!” Reitberger said. “It was probably the coldest Chili Cook-Off there has been. It was a little too windy at times, but we had a lot of great teams, and they stuck it out. The weather kept some people away, but it was also the perfect temperature for eating chili. Several teams ran out of chili this year, and that doesn’t always happen.”