On Saturday, Feb. 2, the Keg and Barrel hosted their ninth annual chili and gumbo cook-off and drew hundreds of patrons to come taste samples from many local competitors.
Owner of Keg and Barrel John Neal said he was happy that the event continues to grow each year.
“It’s a fun day,” Neal said. “You know, we were hoping for a little sunshine, but we asked for no rain, and that worked out. It’s just a good time; it’s our busiest day of the year. I can’t believe we’ve been doing it for nine years.”
Neal said that when the event started it was just chili, but they added gumbo a couple of years ago. “This year we added the ‘wild card’ to the event to offer even more,” Neal said.
The chili competition is broken into two divisions: traditional and non-traditional. Rules state that chili can have as many or as few ingredients, but they specify that one of the ingredients must be craft beer. The amount of beer that is used in the chili is strictly up to the competitor. All food must be cooked on site, with exception to rouxs.
Brenda Hegwood along with her team the Spice Girls (Cathy Hopkins, Matt Haskins, Remy Duncan) won first place in the gumbo category.
“We’ve been competing in this competition for a number of years,” Hegwood said. “This will be the fourth trophy we’ve won. We’ve won third place gumbo. . . One year we got the people’s choice, and this year we got first place. We had a good time. I think everything just worked right today, and we’ve just got it down to a T now maybe. It was a good day; it was fun. It’s a day I look forward to.”
Whit Ramsey and his team, Chop It Like It’s Hot, were first-year competitors and ended up winning first place in non-traditional chili.
“It was really fun making chili and gumbo,” Ramsey said. “It’s not a process I’ve ever done on my own. [The day] was fun, exhausting and long, and we were up for a couple hours last night preparing. It was fun putting our different spin on it and seeing what everyone else had.”
Ramsey said this is an example of one of Hattiesburg’s great community events. “Everyone is caring about putting their effort in.”
Bo Hrom, a physician at Hattiesburg Clinic, competed with his friend Will Miller and their team, The World Champions of the World.
“We did a classic chicken and sausage gumbo. I made a cheese soup for our wildcard, and we had a traditional 3 bean chili,” Hrom said. “It was solid.”
Will Miller, an employee with Sanderson Farms, said the cook-off is one of those days that makes sleep the night before difficult.
“If you’re like me, you always forget something, so it’s always like a mad dash and a scramble to catch up, but it’s always fun,” Miller said. “It’s one of my favorite things to do, cook in a competition and see how you measure up against other folks. It’s always interesting too to see how everyone else does things.”
Brad Dufrene and Mike Madson are both professors at Southern Miss and have been competing in the cook-off for a number of years.
“It’s one of the many great events in Hattiesburg,” Dufrene said. “It’s always good to see people from the community and around the state come out and have a good time.”
Madson said the cook-off is one of the more fun days of the year. “You get to cook some chili, hang out and have some drinks, and a lot of people come. It’s a lot of fun.”
photo courtesy Keg and Barrel website