Husband, wife take home honors in Leyden chili contest

Karin Parks won the vegetarian category with her Spicy White Vegetarian Chili in the chili contest at Leyden’s Readyfest.

Karin Parks won the vegetarian category with her Spicy White Vegetarian Chili in the chili contest at Leyden’s Readyfest. FOR THE RECORDER/TINKY WEISBLAT

Richard Parks won the meat category with his Smoked Chili in the chili contest at Leyden’s Readyfest.

Richard Parks won the meat category with his Smoked Chili in the chili contest at Leyden’s Readyfest. FOR THE RECORDER/TINKY WEISBLAT

The Zaccara sisters, Maggie (in foreground) and Carolann, judge the chili contest at Leyden’s Readyfest.

The Zaccara sisters, Maggie (in foreground) and Carolann, judge the chili contest at Leyden’s Readyfest. FOR THE RECORDER/TINKY WEISBLAT

The flyer for Leyden’s first Readyfest.

The flyer for Leyden’s first Readyfest. FOR THE RECORDER/TINKY WEISBLAT


For the Recorder

Published: 10-10-2023 11:08 AM

I recently ventured into the lovely town of Leyden to serve as the host (and a fan) of a chili cook-off. The cook-off was part of Readyfest, a day-long celebration of emergency preparedness spearheaded by Leyden’s Emergency Management Committee.

I imagine chili was chosen because it is generally associated with firefighters. It was an inspired choice for early autumn.

The day’s festivities included various demonstrations and workshops (administering Narcan, working with a chainsaw) and featured booths and talks from town, state and county officials about emergency preparedness.

I arrived a little before 4 p.m., when the chili entries were due. I was impressed by the array of Crockpots that were plugged in at the pavilion at Avery Field. The contest netted six entries in the “game” category (meat) and four in the “garden” category (vegetarian).

I tasted them all, and there wasn’t a dud among them. The entries varied greatly. The game chilis included ground beef, pot roast and lamb as ingredients. The garden chilis included things I would never have thought about putting in chili. Kale featured prominently in one, lending terrific texture.

Cornbread was available to sop up chili juices. Devorah Vester even brought her own cornbread to complement her vegetarian chili. Uniquely and seasonally, her cornbread recipe included squash.

The judging was supposed to begin at 4:30 p.m. It ended up beginning quite a bit later. The people with whom I was sitting, mostly members of the Historical Commission including Nan Rolstad and Vanessa Russell, informed me that the entire schedule for the day was taking place in “Leyden time.”

I didn’t mind the delay. I got a chance to tour all the booths and to chat with friends. (It turned out that I know several people who live in Leyden, including my college chum Merry Lein.)

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I was also able to witness the game “Ready or Not,” organized by the emergency services folks and hosted by Leyden’s librarian, Karin Parks. Karin confessed that she had long wanted to serve as a game-show host. She showed pizazz as she quizzed residents about hypothetical emergency situations.

Sometime around 5 p.m., the two judges began their official tasting. They were the Zaccara sisters, Maggie and Carolann. Maggie is co-owner of Hope & Olive and Magpie in Greenfield, and Carolann is the proprietress of the Wagon Wheel in Gill.

The Zaccaras know their way around a pot of chili, or of pretty much anything else. Even so, it could not have been easy for them to choose winners among the chilis, which were all tasty.

Eventually, they selected the chili made with pot roast as the winner in the meat category. The winning vegetarian chili was a white chili. The word “white” is intentional here. It was the whitest chili I had ever seen. It resembled an offbeat corn chowder. It was full of flavor, however.

The entries were completely anonymous, given to the judges in cups with numbers that had been assigned to the different chilis. Entertainingly, the winning vegetable and meat chilis were made by a married couple.

Karin Parks, famed game-show hostess and librarian, won the vegetarian prize with the white chili mentioned above, and her husband Richard took home the meat honors with his smoky pot-roast chili.

Having the couple’s chilis entered in different categories worked out well for them. Karin told me that the two had been feeling competitive from the moment the contest was announced.

“Luckily, we were both crowned victorious in our own categories,” she said. “Otherwise, one of us would have ended up sleeping on the couch.”

Both Karin and Richard gave me their recipes, which appear below. You’ll note that Richard’s chili takes both a smoker and a great deal of time. Luckily, Karin’s recipe takes only about half an hour. The husband and wife obviously balance each other out.

Richard’s Smoked Chili


2 pounds chuck roast

Rub of your choice as needed (Richard used Meat Church Holy Voodoo.)

1 jalapeño pepper, sliced into rings with seeds

1 poblano pepper, chopped and seeded

1 green bell pepper, chopped and seeded

1 red onion, chopped

1 head garlic, peeled, smashed and roughly chopped

1 pound sliced portobello mushrooms, broken into pieces by hand.

1 splash oil

1 pound hot Italian sausage in bulk form

1 pound very lean ground beef

1 28-ounce can crushed Italian tomatoes

1 28-ounce can fire-roasted tomatoes

1 16-ounce can dark red kidney beans

1 16-ounce can pink beans

1 can chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, with the peppers roughly chopped

3 tablespoons smoked paprika

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons onion powder

2 tablespoons dried oregano

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 to 2 12-ounce cans beer (cook’s choice; Richard used Coors Light)

2 tablespoons butter

Honey to taste


Set your smoker to 225 degrees. Season the chuck roast with the rub. Let it rest while prepping vegetables.

Prepare the vegetables in the order above, chopping them into bite-size pieces, and place them in a cast-iron Dutch oven with a pinch of salt and a splash of oil.

Once the smoker has preheated, place the uncovered Dutch oven on the bottom rack with the roast on the top rack over the Dutch oven. Use the super smoke option if available. Smoke for one hour, stirring the vegetables every 15 to 20 minutes.

Add the ground meats to the Dutch oven and stir to combine them with the vegetables. Smoke for two hours, stirring every 15 to 20 minutes.

Add the canned ingredients, the spices and one can of beer. Mix well; the ground meat and the vegetables may not be fully cooked at this point, and that is just fine.

Continue to smoke until the roast reads 180 degrees in internal temperature. This took about five hours for Richard. Stir the contents of the Dutch oven every 30 minutes.

Once the roast reaches the desired temperature, bring it inside, top it with the butter, wrap it in paper and let it rest overnight in the refrigerator.

Stir the contents of the Dutch oven and add honey to taste (Richard added about ¼ cup to balance heat and acidity), cover and let rest overnight in the refrigerator.

The next morning, set the smoker to 350 degrees. Cut the roast into roughly bite-size cubes and add it to the Dutch oven. Stir to combine. Taste and add liquid and more seasonings as needed. (Richard was happy with the taste and did not add any additional seasoning but did add about half a can of beer.)

Place the uncovered Dutch oven in the smoker and smoke until the roast is tender, about five hours. Richard says that this makes six hearty servings. In my house, it would serve more.

Karin’s Spicy White Vegetarian Chili

Despite the alleged rivalry between the husband and wife, Karin says Richard helped a lot with the creation of her chili.


1 chopped white onion

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup chopped bell pepper

1 sliced jalapeño (The seeds are optional; use them if you like a lot of spice.)

4 garlic cloves, minced

3 cups vegetable broth

1 8-ounce block cream cheese

¼ tsp ground cloves

1 tablespoon chili powder

2 tablespoons cumin

2 teaspoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons maple syrup

2 cans white beans, drained

1 cup corn

Zest and juice of ½ lime

Salt and pepper to taste


In a large pot, cook the onion in the butter until it becomes translucent; then add the bell pepper and the jalapeño. Cook for about five minutes; then add the garlic and cook for one more minute.

Stir in the vegetable broth, the cream cheese, the seasonings and the maple syrup until thoroughly combined. Add the beans, the corn and the lime zest. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook it for 10 minutes; then add salt, pepper and lime juice to taste. Makes four hearty servings.

Tinky Weisblat is an award-winning author and singer known as the Diva of Deliciousness. Visit her website,