Newcomer versus regulars in Homewood's annual Chili Cook-off

  Homewood chili chef Larry Van Heel, left, accepts 
  a certificate for placing in the 2017 Chili Cook-off 
  from Homewood Events Manager Allisa Opyd. 

  (Chronicle file photo)

When the chili contestants face off on Saturday to see who's the best in Homewood's annual Chili Cook-off, there will be a new cook taking aim at the old pros.

Homewood's Fall Fest runs from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday. The cook-off contest judging starts at 2 p.m. and community tasting is around 3 p.m. on Martin Avenue in downtown Homewood.  

  Dan Taylor is a veteran 
  chili chef but will make 
  his first attempt to 
  capture Homewood's 
  Master Chef title in the 
  Chili Cook-off on 


Dan Taylor is from Homewood, and he isn't new to chili, but this will be his first time competing in the local chili contest. 

Taylor said he has been cooking chili for nearly three decades, but he started competing only a few years ago. He's done all right, he said, taking ribbons in a few contests. 
Like most chili cooks, he aims for a unique taste. Feedback at several contests provided the impetus to go in a different direction.

"I had one elderly woman tell me, 'It's got incredible flavor, but it's too hot. I can't eat it,'" he said. "So I cut the cayenne pepper out."
That's all he'll say about his recipe. Like most chili cooks, the specifics are a well-guarded secret.

Taylor will be up against some stiff competition as Homewood's regulars prepare for the event.

Larry Van Heel, who has participated in the cook-off for about eight years, considers himself a newcomer to the group of annual competitors. He belongs to a group of friends who enjoy holding their own cooking events, and the cook-off is their one big public outing each year.

In addition to Van Heel, the group includes Chuck Mokijewski, Hank Baldwin, Dave Staehlin and Jim Hughes.

"These guys are the unsung heroes" of the event, Van Heel said, because they participate year after year, helping make the event one that residents look forward to.

They take their chili very seriously, Van Heel said, but they also have a lot of fun cooking together and contributing to the community through the annual event, which is a fundraiser for a local cause. 

This year, the donations collected during the public tasting will benefit the Homewood-Flossmoor High School singers, who are preparing to go on tour in Italy during spring break. In the past, the event had generated money for scout troops, the Cancer Support Center and, last year, South Suburban Family Shelter.

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