Whistler’s Annual Chili Cook-off


There are many different ways to fundraise, whether asking for donations, applying for grants, or hosting events. Though some of Whistler’s fundraiser events have continued for decades, others lasted only a few years, such as the Annual Chili Cook-off hosted by the Whistler Resort Association (WRA; today known as Tourism Whistler) and the Whistler Health Planning Society.

The Society had formed in 1982 to fundraise for a dedicated medical facility in Whistler. The Whistler Medical Centre opened in a double-wide trailer in September 1982, but the Society continued to fundraise for a larger permanent facility and more equipment. Their Annual Chili Cook-off took place as part of a larger program events over the first weekend of July in the early 1980s.

Craig McKenzie of the Whistler Health Planning Society inspects the trailer brought into position adjacent to the Sports & Convention Centre for Whistler’s new medical clinic. Whistler Question Collection, 1982

The First Annual Chili Cook-off was held in Village Square on July 3, 1983. Teams were given five hours to cook enough chili to feed all the judges and some spectators. According to the Whistler Question, there were a lot of theories floating around Village Square about what made a good chili and how to win, including “bacon fat gives flavour,” “cubed beef is the meat to use,” and “beer is the secret ingredient.” The real answer, however, was probably to try to appeal to the six “celebrity” judges: Whistler Mayor Mark Angus, Monica Hayes of Westin Bayshores, Glen Tolling of Molson, restaurateur Umberto Menghi, summer ski coach Toni Sailer, and John Creelman. According to Ted Nebbeling, head cook of the “Gourmez” team who took first place, the real secret was to surprise the judges by using 60 different spices. Nebbeling, along with teammates Susan Howard, Val Lang and Wendy Meredith, were awarded with a spot at the Canadian Chili Championship taking place at the Westing Bayshores Hotel in Vancouver later that summer.

The Gambling Gourmet of Whistler got a first for costumes but placed out of the money for their chili during the 1983 Canadian Chili Championship at Westin Bayshore Saturday. It seems a picky judge didn’t like vegetables in chili. Oh well, there’s always next year. Congratulations to the Gambling Gourmet Team! Pictured here: Chef Ted Nebbeling, Susan Howard and Valerie Lang. Whistler Question Collection, 1983

Chili cooking wasn’t the only activity on offer in Village Square. There were also games for spectators such as apple bobbing, a fishing pond, and a seed spitting contest. By the end of the day, the First Annual Chili Cook-off raised almost $1,000 for the Whistler Health Planning Society.

The Annual Chili Cook-off was back in July 1984 to raise $700 for the purchase of medical equipment. The judging panel featured six Vancouver broadcasters, returning judges Mark Angus and Toni Sailer, and Canadian Chili Championship organizer Mike Murphy. Six teams competed with varying levels of skill. Angus described one entry as “like a spaghetti sauce” and another as resembling “a famous brandname of cat food.” The “Gambling Gourmez” won for the second year in a row and went on to compete again at the Canadian Chili Championship.

Making good chili wasn’t the only way to win a prize that year. There was also a prize for “best showmanship,” which went to the “Medics” team. Teams competed in costume and with props, each trying to outdo the other. As a fundraiser for the Whistler Medical Centre, the “Medics” fully embraced the cause and featured surgical gear, patients and a puppet while creating their chili.

It’s not just what you make, it’s how you make it! Winner of showmanship laurels for Sunday’s chili cook-off went to the Medics, whose chili didn’t go down well with the judges, but at least stayed down. Whistler Question Collection, 1984

By the summer of 1985, the Whistler Health Planning Society had restructured as the Whistler Health Care Society and were continuing to fundraise for their 1986 move into the Municipal Hall basement. The third Annual Chili Cook-off raised $600 towards this goal, despite moving from Village Square to Myrtle Philip School. The event had a Gold Rush theme and featured cancan dancers, the Sweet Adeline Quartet, and gold panning demonstrations.

It appears that this was the last Annual Chili Cook-off, as we can’t find any record of one in July 1986. However, the Whistler Health Care Society and now the Whistler Health Care Foundation continue to fundraise for health services in Whistler today.

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