At Mifflin Elementary School on Friday night, kids collected chili samples from the crockpots of over 50 cooks encircling the gym. Side dishes of corn bread, coleslaw, chocolates and homemade croutons complemented the stations of professional and amateur chefs as they stood behind cafeteria tables and competed in the 11th Annual East Falls Chili Cook-off.
The event, sponsored by the East Falls Community Council, raised over $3,500 for local grants and organizations. Claire L. Stilley, a Vice President of the East Falls Community Council (EFCC), said that the “party with a purpose” exceeded organizers’ expectations.
“You know it’s a great crowd,” said Stilley, “when even the [Phillie] Phanatic standing on a table with me can’t get people’s attention!” Organizers say more than 450 people attended this year’s event.
The Philadelphia University Food Services Department offered perhaps the evening’s most touching contribution.
Rosa Monroe, a favorite cook of students and staff for 31 years, died of cancer last year at the age of 73. Her colleagues Dee Lotsey, Joey Prestia and Susan Devine honored Monroe’s memory by preparing and serving “Mama Rosa’s White Chicken Chili,” a student favorite.
“Kids couldn’t wait when they saw Mama Rosa’s chili on the menu,” the team remembered. All three Food Service employees credit “Mama Rosa” with teaching them about cooking. “It was like having your grandma in the kitchen with you,” said Lotsey. Of all of Mama Rosa’s meals, Susan Devine said she missed her Manhattan Clam Chowder the most. Randy Monroe, Rosa’s son, said he would tease his mom about cooking more of her specialties at the school than she did at home.
After finishing their taste tests, adult community members and professionals voted for the best dishes. The judges chose Victoria’s Kitchen and Meal Makers as winners of the professional category, and awarded the amateur prize to Petrone Real Estate for its “Mean Gene Chili Extravaganza.” Gene Gofman, a friend of the Petrone team, said his secret was substituting a blend of pork, lamb, and beef for kidney beans. Heather Petrone-Shook said the recipe won because it “sucks you in with a sweet taste” before warming up.
Not all of the entrants showed up with family secrets. Jonathan Finger, 29, laughed when asked where he got his recipe. “Online,” he answered. With an hour left in the cook-off, nearly all of Finger’s five quarts of Beef Brisket Chili were gone. Still, his wife Shoshana prefers another of her husband’s recipes when he cooks dinner.
“He makes a really good macaroni and cheese.”