The air was cold and the chili was hot as fun loving Southwest Employees, families and friends gathered for our "34th and Last Southwest Airlines Chili Cookoff" on Saturday, April 14, at Shadow Creek Ranch. We always say "last" because when the first chili cookoff was held, it was uncertain if Southwest would be around for a second cookoff!
There are many stories to be told about this event. I'd like to let you know what it was like being a chili cooker in Inflight Service's bid to be the chili champion!
The dreaded alarm rings early. I quickly find one sweater that hasn't been stored, dress, and head for the kitchen. I begin heating breakfast for our group and store it in one of those pizza delivery bags you purchase at Sam's. My GPS and I hit the road for an hour drive. I repeat, "This is going to be fun!" until I make my turn heading for the ranch. I see one cold flag waver directing traffic, which is only me at that hour. You know the cooks have to get started early!
I'm really impressed with the ranch, and as I trudge up the winding road I see a lot of people putting up tents. It's easy to find Inflight because we have styled ourselves as the "Crazy Hogz" complete with Harleys, an impressive Crazy Hogz Bar handcrafted by our Base Manager Henry Townsend and family, Crazy Hogz T-shirts and "do-rags" tied around our heads! Three cook pots have been set up along with a charcoal grill to prepare lunch! Our chief cook is Debby Devoe, and she and Henry have obviously worked long and hard in getting the supplies ready. All the preparation has to be done on site. Our creative Supervisors are there to help unless they are needed at the airport. There are Employees, friends, kids, dogs - all there for a good time, and they are determined WE are going to win! My first assignment is to chop onions - LOTS of onions. Forty pounds of meat must be browned and then onions, garlic, seasonings, tomatoes, tomato paste, AND our secret ingredient all added and stirred. When all the pots are bubbling, I pay a visit to other tents to sample the competition's chili. "Not enough salt." "Too ordinary!" "Whole jalapenos floating on top!" "Squash in chili?" I go back to the tent feeling we are really going to win! Our CEO Gary Kelly and his wife visit, test our chili, and we get a thumb's up! It looks like two to three hundred people are in the Bingo tent playing for a chance to win flight passes to destinations all over the world. When the last number is called, we get a lot of new visitors testing our chili. We decide what makes our chili stand out is the after taste. First you taste the chili flavor, then you detect something sweet, and last a slow burn. A true taste experience! We are doing a victory dance!
All entries must be delivered to the judges, lead by a retired Vice President Dennis Lardon by 2:30 p.m. In the meantime, we have dance music, a talent show, and at 4:45 p.m. everyone left gathers under the tent for the winners to be announced! We are excited when we receive one of the three Showmanship awards for our theme and site. The top five chili cooks are announced beginning with number five. We aren't number five. Great - we scored higher! We don't get number four. Okay. We don't get number three. Oh my. I wonder if we TIED someone else? What? We don't get number two. WOW! Did we get Number One?
No. We did not place in the top five chili cooks! But, we all exhibited a Fun-LUVing Attitude! We certainly showed our Warrior Spirit! And, Servant's Hearts were obvious everywhere! And, there is alway next year's "35th and Last Southwest Airlines Chili Cookoff!" (And our secret ingredient!)