YMCA holds annual cook-off

Williamstown resident Ann Thayer wasn’t always a fan of chili, but attending the Marietta Family YMCA’s Chili, Soup and Dessert Cook-Off over the years has opened her eyes – and taste buds – to a variety of styles.

“I really never liked chili, and coming here has taught me to love chili,” said Thayer, 46, who named The Galley’s white chicken chili her favorite at Sunday’s 14th annual Cook-Off, held at Washington State Community College.

Her mother, Kittie Clark, 71, likes to support the Y as well as get an idea of where to go the next time she wants to order some takeout chili.

“I always check out the restaurants,” she said.

Ten different businesses and 16 individuals prepared dishes for the Cook-Off, which is the second largest special event fundraiser of the year for the Y, said Suzy Zumwalde, YMCA executive director and first-place winner for the second year running in the individual chili category.

“I love to cook,” Zumwalde said, noting other Y staffers also entered. “We have a lot of fun with it and probably make it a little competitive.”

Zumwalde estimated 200 people attended Sunday’s Cook-Off, which usually generates about $5,000 for youth programs between admission fees and a silent auction.

“We couldn’t ask for a better turnout. We couldn’t ask for better weather. The location is perfect,” Zumwalde said. “The food is absolutely wonderful.”

This is the first year the event has been held in Washington State’s cafeteria. Zumwalde said the crowd it draws got too large for the Y itself, and other locations have been tried in recent years, as organizers attempted to find the right fit from a size and cost perspective.

Marietta resident Gaye Studenic, 52, said she thinks the Y got it right with Washington State. She and her son, Aaron, who has Down syndrome, would have liked to come in years past, but had heard it was a bit too crowded.

“I’ve always wanted to be a part of it because I want to support the Y,” she said.

In the cafeteria, they found plenty of room and plenty of food to enjoy, even if they were cautious about the chili.

“We’re hesitant to try too many different chilis because we don’t like it too spicy,” Studenic said.

Washington State President Bradley Ebersole and his wife, Gail, were among the panel of judges for the event.

“Gail’s qualifications are that she was a home economics teacher,” her husband laughed.

“So I tasted food all the time,” Gail Ebersole added.

Gail Ebersole said she judged in the soup and dessert categories, giving extra weight in the latter one to dishes made from scratch with unusual ingredients.

Marietta resident Bill Farnsworth said he never misses a Y Cook-Off, which seems to come at just the right time of year.

“It’s seasonal too, ’cause it’s starting to get a little colder – chili on a chilly day,” he said.