Executive chef Fawn Racoma and kitchen manager Aubree Arndt prepare Sweetwater Grill's entrees into the seventh annual Chuck Wagon Chili Challenge. The event takes place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

Photo by John F. Russell

Executive chef Fawn Racoma and kitchen manager Aubree Arndt prepare Sweetwater Grill's entrees into the seventh annual Chuck Wagon Chili Challenge. The event takes place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

Chili Challenge returns to Steamboat on Sunday

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Laundry executive chef Chris Randall stirs his elk red chili Friday afternoon as he prepares two dishes for Sunday's seventh annual Chuck Wagon Chili Challenge.

Reader poll

What Labor Day weekend events do you plan to participate in?

  • Wild West Air Fest 10%
  • Chuck Wagon Chili Challenge 10%
  • Rocky Mountain Bull Bash 9%
  • Other Steamboat events (Running Series, sidewalk sale, farmers market, stage race, etc.) 14%
  • Oak Creek Labor Day festivities 19%
  • I don't have any plans 37%

125 total votes.

— By the time he was 10 years old, Chris Randall was cooking dinner for his family one day a week to give his mother a night off from the kitchen.

He had three specialties: macaroni and cheese, eggplant Parmesan and chili. His mom always loved the latter dish, Randall recalled.

Chili is “a really comforting, hardy, kind of easy thing to eat,” said Randall, now the executive chef at Steamboat’s Laundry restaurant downtown. “It’s got a lot of intense flavors.”

On Friday in the Laundry’s kitchen, Randall had two chilies simmering on the stove as his staff bustled around the room preparing for dinner that night.

One was a “burn-your-face-off” spicy elk chili, and the other was a green chili with pork, but the dishes won’t be enjoyed until they’re stewed to perfection by Sunday, when Randall will enter them in the Chuck Wagon Chili Challenge.

“I love cooking. I like making chili; it’s kind of a no-brainer,” Randall said about participating in his first Chili Challenge after moving to Steamboat last winter. “I like all the different levels of flavors and the different styles. I get to do a wide variety of things.

“I’m competitive too.”

And he’s not the only one with a friendly competitive edge when it comes to cooking. There are 23 entries in the four categories of the seventh annual event, which goes from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

At the corner of Eighth and Oak streets, the Labor Day tradition also features live music from Trevor G. Potter and Rural Wreckage as well as Ragweed.

Tracy Barnett — manager of Mainstreet Steamboat Springs, which produces the event — said it’s a family-friendly afternoon.

“We have two bouncy houses this year because we had so many kids,” Barnett said.

The event is free, but for $10, attendees can taste all the chili they can stomach. In the tasting kit is a ballot to vote for the favorite dish of the day, and winners will be announced at 2:45 p.m. with honors in four categories: red chili, green chili, other and cornbread.

Also taking up part of their kitchen with spicy chili aromas on Friday was the crew at Sweetwater Grill. Executive chef Fawn Racoma won the other category with a white chili two years ago and is taking on the challenge of entering in the other three categories this year.

“The key to it is taking it slow,” Racoma said. “It’s taking huge pieces of meat and using every part of it.”

On Friday, she and kitchen manager Aubree Arndt had a few projects going: tomatillos and jalapenos roasted in the oven while Arndt sliced a cut of chuck roast into pieces for the meaty, stew-like red chili. Pork bones bubbled in a large pot to make the green chili broth, and pinto beans soaked.

“I grew up in the Midwest, so of course (chili) is a comfort food,” Racoma said. “It’s very popular, the red chili there.”

She said that while Labor Day might still be a warm, summer-like weekend, the spicier chilies actually have a cooling effect.

But the traditional fall dish is still a reminder that the summer is coming to a close.

“It’s getting everybody excited about moving into the wintertime,” Racoma said. “It’s a reminder, 'Here we go.’”

Labor Day weekend events

Saturday

7 a.m. Pancake breakfast, Soroco High School in Oak Creek, $5

9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mainstreet Farmers Market, Sixth Street between Lincoln Avenue and Oak Street

9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wild West Air Fest, Steamboat Springs Airport, FREE to $6

9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Come Sale Away Sidewalk Sale, downtown Steamboat Springs

10 a.m. Cribbage Tournament, Elks Tavern in Oak Creek, FREE

10 a.m. Fishing Derby, Decker Park in Oak Creek, FREE

10 a.m. Steamboat Springs Stage Race, time trial

Noon Free Family Fun Day, Main Street in Oak Creek, FREE

1 to 5 p.m. Bingo, Oak Creek Fire Station

2 p.m. Hot dog eating contest, Main Street in Oak Creek, FREE

2:30 p.m. Cakewalk, Main Street in Oak Creek, FREE

3 p.m. Oak Creek Coal Queen and Princess crowning, Main Street in Oak Creek, FREE

7 p.m. Comedy show featuring Bob Meddles, The Colorado Bar in Oak Creek, $12

9 p.m. The Wranglers, country music, The Colorado Bar in Oak Creek, $10

Sunday

7 a.m. Pancake breakfast, Soroco High School in Oak Creek, $5

8 a.m. Steamboat Springs Stage Race, Moots Road Race

8 a.m. Softball Tournament, Soroco ball fields in Oak Creek, FREE

9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wild West Air Fest, Steamboat Springs Airport, , FREE to $6

9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Come Sale Away Sidewalk Sale, downtown Steamboat Springs

10 a.m. Steamboat Springs Running Series: 10K at 10,000 feet

11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Chuck Wagon Chili Challenge, downtown Steamboat Springs on Eighth and Oak streets, FREE to $10

1 p.m. Live auction at The Colorado Bar in Oak Creek

3 p.m. Ribbon cutting and cookout at Oak Creek’s pump track, FREE

5 p.m. Rocky Mountain Bull Bash Pro Bull Riding, Brent Romick Rodeo Arena, $20 to $30

7:30 p.m. Family Movie Night featuring “The Muppets” at Decker Park in Oak Creek, FREE

8 p.m. Bartender races, The Oak Restaurant in Oak Creek, FREE

Monday

8 a.m. Steamboat Springs Stage Race, Ski & Bike Kare Criterium

9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Come Sale Away Sidewalk Sale, downtown Steamboat Springs

11 a.m. Labor Day Parade in Oak Creek, followed by games and vendors in Decker Park, FREE

1 p.m. Volleyball and horseshoes tournaments, Decker Park in Oak Creek, FREE

1 to 5 p.m. Bingo, Oak Creek Fire Station

3 p.m. Grease pole competition with cash prize, FREE

To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@ExploreSteamboat.com

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