Mike Singleton has been home all week preparing for the 32nd annual Havelock Chili Festival Friday and Saturday at Walter B. Jones Park.
Singleton, of Havelock, won the chicken wings competition at last year’s event and is looking to repeat on Friday to kick off the two-day festival.
“I’ve been putting together my spices, checking out my gear and getting the People’s Choice red chili ready to go,” Singleton said Tuesday. “We’ll bring five gallons of red and five gallons of chili verde for 10 gallons total.”
He’s not the only one.
Last year’s red chili champion, David Lorenz, was zooming around New Jersey Tuesday on the hunt for a good hunk of beef for his entry in the competition.
“Right now I’m headed to the market to see if I can get a different grade of tri-tip,” Lorenz said, competing with the rumble of freeway traffic.
Bob Gambichler, director of Nutrition Services at Carteret General Hospital, placed fourth in the red chili competition last year and is raring to improve his finish.
“I’ve been doing this chili thing for several years,” he said. “I read the judges notes from last year, and if I do this and that and a little tweaking, I think we’ll have it. We’re going to win it this year.”
Those are heavy words considering he’s competing against 20 other cooks, many of whom have been past winners of the Havelock Chili Festival and even won national competitions. The winner in Havelock gets to represent North Carolina in the International Chili Society’s World Championships.
Al Parks, of Newport, has been trading notes with his daughter for the last month trying to fine-tune what he hopes will be a prize-winning recipe.
“We’ve been testing recipes. This is the last week. There may be one small tweak we’ll add to it, but this will be it for us,” Parks said. “We started out doing this four years ago. The whole key is to have fun with it. We are members of the International Chili Society, but we’re not going to take it to the extreme. We bring the whole family out for it and have a great time.”
Fun and fellowship is a big part of the festival.
“Havelock is one of my favorite cookoffs,” said Lorenz, who after winning the state competition in Havelock went on to place second at the World Food Championships. “I’ve been doing this 30 plus years. I just love the people of Havelock and the way you do things in Havelock. The general public is just so nice and everybody is so accommodating also.”
The Havelock Chamber of Commerce puts on the festival, which raises money for local charities and draws about 25,000 chili lovers and others for two days of food and entertainment.
“After 11 months of planning, it’s finally here,” said Stephanie Duncan, executive director of the chamber. “The wings have been ordered. The paper products have been ordered. Now we just need everyone to come out and do their part and enjoy it. It’s totally a community effort. The money that is raised goes right back into the community and does great things for not only Havelock but also the surrounding areas.”
This year’s festival benefits the Coastal Women’s Shelter, the Craven-Cherry Point Child Development Center/Easter Seals, Annunciation Catholic School, Havelock High School Band Boosters, the Cherry Point Young Marines and Early College East.
Duncan said help with the event is being given by the Criminal Justice Club of Craven Community College, One Harbor Church and the Cherry Point Single Marine Program.
The festival runs from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday with the chicken wings competition, with the winner determined by who serves the most. Tickets will be $5 each, which allows for tasting of five wings.
Also on Friday, judges will be deciding the best chili verde and salsa, although the salsa is not served to the public. The band Spare Change will perform all evening.
“We’ve ordered 15,000 wings,” Duncan said. “That’s a lot of chicken wings.”
The red chili competition is Saturday, with $1 sample bowls of chili being served starting at 10 a.m. The band Cold Biscuit will be performing periodically throughout the day beginning at noon. Awards will be given out at 3:30 p.m.
Community groups, including dancers from the Havelock Center for the Performing Arts and students from the ATA Martial Arts, will be performing at a secondary stage. The festival will also feature Civil War re-enactors, an automotive display from Nationwide NASCAR and Amato Insurance, and Cindy Miller, radio personality from WSFL-FM 106.5.
For those not interested in chili or wings, other food vendors will have fish, barbecue, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, funnel cakes, shaved ice, pizza, ribs and lumpia.
Plenty of commercial vendors and informational booths will also be stationed on the festival grounds.
Admission and parking are free.
This year, as a promotion for the festival, the Havelock Chamber of Commerce sent around a giant three-foot silver spoon.
“It went into surgery at CarolinaEast (Medical Center),” Duncan said. “The Cherry Point Young Marines showed it how to be a Marine, dressed it up in boots and everything. It’s done reading hour at the library here in Havelock.”
The spoon will be at the festival both days.
“We’ll be going around and giving everybody an opportunity to take their pictures with the spoon,” Duncan said.
The chamber also started a Facebook page called Havelock Chili Festival in addition to its regular website at www.chilifestival.org where information on the festival is available. Others can call the chamber at 447-1101.
“It’s a great time — lots of friends. lots of fellowship,” Singleton said. “Contribute back to the community and help out in any way you can. It’s just a marquee event for Havelock. Even though the economy is down, the people still come out. Havelock does a good job of it.”