Cooking for a crowd: 'Chili Lady' set for annual Cook-off fundraiser for Academy of Excellence

Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Teacher Ann Reed, a.k.a. the Chili Lady, makes the lion's share of chili for the Academy of Excellence annual Chili Cook-off, scheduled for Friday, Feb. 15 at the Inn of the Ozarks Conference Center.

EUREKA SPRINGS -- Being a student in Ann Reed's third and fourth grade class has its perks. Before Thanksgiving, she bakes pumpkin pies from her mother's recipe and shares them with students as well as friends and neighbors. And on the afternoon of the school's annual chili cook-off, her students get to taste-test her entry.

"I will take my class samples and see if it needs adjusting," she said.

Reed teaches at the Academy of Excellence, where she is the mainstay of the school's fundraiser, an annual Chili Cook-off. Each competitor makes 50 servings of their entry, but Reed makes 12 gallons, enough to serve 250, so there's enough to feed the crowd.

"I am the Chili Lady," she said.

The cook-off, on Feb. 15, started as a chili dinner in the school gym and turned into a community-wide event that draws 500-plus people. It is also dinner -- for $8, $5 for kids, everybody gets a bowl and spoon and goes around the room sampling the contest entries. Reed calls her entry School Chili.

"It's flavorful but not too spicy for kids or adults," she said.

With help, Reed used to make all the chili for the school dinner, using 60 pounds of ground beef. Now she uses 30 pounds to make three batches of chili in 18-quart roasters. She and a friend came up with the original recipe, she said, which she has tweaked during the years. But basically it's ground beef, pinto beans, tomatoes, onions, crushed garlic and Williams Chili Spice Mix.

"There's no recipe," she said. "It's by taste."

Reed, who grew up in Hearne, Texas, said she learned to cook in her early teens -- she helped get dinner started when her mother was in graduate school. Now she likes cooking all kinds of food -- Italian, Mexican, Asian. On the afternoon of the Chili Cook-off, she has a substitute take over her class and goes to work in the school kitchen. She enters her School Chili in the amateur competition/traditional category, and has won first place several times, as well as second and thirds.

"It depends on the judges," she said. "Some people like regular chili."

Other entries are super-spicy. Categories include vegetarian, chicken or turkey, verde (green) and "other."

"We've had elk, buffalo and deer," said Christy Thurman, the school office manager.

Reed said that cooking food and sharing it with others is a form of Christian action, a way of using a talent you have for the glory of God. And while there is no secret to making School Chili, she does add something she puts into everything she cooks.

"You've got to put a lot of love into your recipes," she said. "That's the secret. You've got to cook with love."

The 10th Annual Chili Cook-Off is Friday, Feb. 15, at the Best Western/Inn of the Ozarks Convention Center, behind the motel complex at 207 W. Van Buren, Eureka Springs.

Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for kids 12 and under. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Silent and live auctions include cedar Adirondack chairs, Branson show tickets, a 12,000-pound winch, spa packages and gift certificates.

Raffle prize is a 50-inch flat-screen TV. Entry fee for cook-off is $50 in professional and amateur divisions, with cash prizes for winners.

More information: www.academy-of-excellence.org.

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