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Pillars of Elkhart and ACF chili cook-offs planned for Saturday, Oct. 25

Ralph Pieniazkiewicz has seen some pretty unusual chili recipes during the seven years he has organized the annual Michiana Chili Cook-Off.

“There have been some really strange things I’m not sure I would even call chili, but every one has their own interpretation,” Pieniazkiewicz said. “Some of the chilis have pasta, some have beef, some don’t. Some have venison. There was a seafood chowder chili. There’s a lot of different things, and it’s a lot of fun.”

Anyone who wants to try out some chili recipes – unusual or traditional – will have ample opportunity this weekend. The Michiana Chili Cook-Off is one of two chili competitions that will be held in conjunction with Oktoberfest celebrations this Saturday, Oct. 25.

Pillars of Elkhart, a group dedicated to local businesses and revitalizing the downtown area of Elkhart, is hosting its annual Oktoberfest celebration in Central Park from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Winners will be announced at 4 p.m.

The event will also feature a beer garden, a cornhole tournament for teams of two, and live music by MR Z and The Tumbleweed Jumpers.

The Michiana Chili Cook-Off, now in its 16th year, is sponsored by the South Bend chapter of the American Culinary Federation and has moved to Beutter Park in Mishawaka because a hotel was built on the event’s previous site at Heritage Square in Granger.

“We’re working with Mishawaka Oktoberfest, so we’re expecting a big crowd,” Pieniazkiewicz said. 

The Michiana Chili Cook-Off will feature entries from restaurants like South Bend Brew Werks and Javier’s Bistro as well as organizations including Martin’s, Saint Mary’s College and Memorial Hospital.

Visitors will be able to vote for their favorite entries in the People’s Choice Category, while local media members like Michele Scherpenberg of Epicureans Unite will serve as celebrity judges. There will also be awards for most unusual chili and best booth. 

The proceeds from the Michiana Cook-Off will be split between the Food Bank of Northern Indiana and the ACF’s South Bend apprenticeship program

The event will go on rain or shine, but Pieniazkiewicz said he is glad the forecast is currently calling for sunny weather in the low 60s.

“It’s looking like really good weather,” Pieniazkiewicz said. “The past two years it was rainy, and it cut the event turnout in half.”

At a glance:

Pillars of Elkhart Chili Cook-Off
Location: Central Park by Civic Plaza in downtown Elkhart
Time: Tasting 1-4 p.m., winners announced at 4 p.m., festivities until 6 p.m.
Cost: $5/person

ACF 16th Annual Michiana Chili Cook-Off
Location: Beutter Park, 400 N. Spring Street, Mishawaka
Time: 2:30-6:30 p.m.
Cost: $5/adult, $2/child under 10

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