Variety Of Chili And Salsa Spices Up Weekend In Payson

Chili Cookoff and Salsa Tasting organizer Travis Tonzi experiments with the vital accessories for a perfect chili cookoff outfit.

Photo by Michele Nelson. |

Chili Cookoff and Salsa Tasting organizer Travis Tonzi experiments with the vital accessories for a perfect chili cookoff outfit.


Tara Cheama, her brother Mackenzie and dad Aldred saw the sign for the Payson Pro-Rodeo Committee Chili Cookoff and did a U-turn.

For $4, chili tasters got a cup, spoon and ticket to try the little more than a dozen red and green chilis. Then they voted for their favorite.

John Landino of the Payson Pro-Rodeo Committee said four contests went on during the cookoff, a People’s Choice chili contest, an official Chili Appre­ciation Society International (CASI) contest to qualify for the international cookoff in Texas later this year, a People’s Choice salsa cookoff and a decoration contest.

“About 300 people came through to try the chili and salsa and listen to music provided by KMOG,” said Landino. “By the time they tried all the chili, they had eaten 18 ounces and were ready for a snow cone.”


Ron and Kathy Kennedy of Kilt Lifter Chili (at left) offered a sample of their chili to Tara, Mackenzie and Aldred Cheama, from the Pueblos of Zuni, N.M. The Cheamas dropped by the Payson Pro-Rodeo Committee Chili and Salsa Cookoff on Saturday.

Tara’s family did fine just eating chili. They were on their way from the pueblos in Zuni, N.M. to Phoenix for a Diamondbacks game against the Colorado Rockies when Tara had to stop to taste the chili.

“We eat a lot of chili,” said Tara, her brow beading up from both the heat of the chili and the sun. “This is good.”

She had an expert’s analysis of the chili and spicy flavor of the meat-filled treat.

“Over there, that chili is a four out of five on the chili scale, but that over there is a 3.5 in spicyness,” she said as she rolled the flavor around in her mouth.

While she talked, many chili tasters held out their cups at the Kilt Lifter Chili booth where Tara and her family had stopped to try Ron and Kathy Kennedy’s award-winning chili.

The Kennedys hail from Glendale in the Valley, but compete around the country in contests advertised by the CASI organization.

“It’s a fun hobby,” said Ron as he ladled his chili infused concoction into cups. “These competitions also raise money for charity. This one is raising money for scholarships.”

His wife Kathy stood nearby, ready to help.

“He made chili and friends said it was really good,” said Kathy of the origins of Ron’s obsession.

Ron uses up to six different types of chili in his fiery dish. Depending on the purpose of his chili, competition or tasting enjoyment, he will add “floaters” or not.

“What we call floaters are beans, corn, rice and mashed potatoes as a thickener,” said Ron. “Competition chili only has meat and the broth.”

Broth does include spices, said Ron.

Tara’s dad listened intently to Ron gleaning ideas on how to up his own chili game.

“I work for the local fire department,” said Aldred. “I’m the cook.”

The winners

People’s Choice — Chili

This contest was a local contest hosted by the Payson Pro-Rodeo Committee, attendees voted for their favorite chili with a ticket provided with their $4 entrance fee.

1st Place: Bill Miles, Payson, red chili

2nd Place: Sonja Streich, Mesa, green chili

3rd Place: Sylvia Miller, Payson, red chili

People’s Choice – Salsa

1st Place: Carol Troogstad, Payson

2nd Place: Lily Johnson, Tucson

3rd Place: Vivien Newcombe, Payson

Official Chili Competition

A CASI-sanctioned contest — chili could only be meat, tomatoes and dried spices. Points awarded go toward competition at the International Chili Cookoff in Texas.

1st Place: Ken Brown

2nd Place: Lily Johnson

3rd Place: Suzi Bain

The Red Chili Show best decorated booth

1st Place: Mary Sue Bain, Suzy Q booth

2nd Place: Sonja Streich, Fathead booth

3rd Place: Linda Johnson, Big Bang booth


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