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Annual Chili Festival Challenges Tastebuds

By Staff | Nov 3, 2015

James Grant of New Martinsville holds a hot pepper to his lips milliseconds before consuming the first of dozens of these gastromical terrors to come. Grant won the contest.

Eight-year-old Aydrean Hunt was determined to eat enough hot peppers to beat his nemesis, 44-year-old James Grant, at Saturday’s16th annual Chili Festival.

The boy had downed at least 20 peppers that were so hot that a mere whiff of those gastronomical terrors caused eyes to water.

“He loves hot sauce,” Hunt’s stepfather, Daniel Chege, said as Hunt ate those monsters as easily as some folks eat french fries. “That boy has been eating hot sauce since he was 4-years old.”

Chege looked over at the boy, who said, “I feel OK!”

Across the table from Hunt stood Grant, a hulking man who had the eye of the tiger in his eyes as he consumed more and more peppers to “beat that kid!”

Aydrean Hunt of New Martinsville has been enjoying hot sauce since he was a tike.

Grant bragged, “I can eat hot stuff all day long. I’m not worried about anything. For me, this is just a snack.”

Though pepper after pepper was tossed into the back of these two competitor’s throats, there can be only one winner Grant. The man consumed more than 60 hot peppers. Hunt was a top finalist and has many years ahead to compete.

“There was a large crowd watching these two go at it,” said Sharon Thomas, executive director of the Wetzel County Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the chili festival.

Between 2,500 and 3,000 people attended the chili festival held downtown on Main Street.

“This was a very good turnout this year. The weather cooperated. Not too hot or too cold, perfect weather for chili,” Don Riggenbach, president of the Wetzel County Chamber of Commerce, said.

Brian Spencer of the New Martinsville Church of God serves a bit of sweet and mild chili at the festival.

“This was an excellent chili festival with a lot of good energy. I hope everyone remembers the good time they had and returns next year.”

Tasty Freeze of Paden City was voted best restaurant chili at this year’s festival.

“They get bragging rights, a trophy and a blue ribbon because after all, they are the champs,” Thomas said.

Though Tasty Freeze won the day, the chili competition was heated.

Rollin’ Smoke, which is New Martinsville’s very own food truck business, served up a blend of meat, beans, tomatoes and spices that not only tamed the tongue, but brought on a rush of pain numbing endorphins. Rollin’ Smoke is a four-time chili festival champion.

“A lot of love and time is put into this chili,” said Rollin’ Smoke chef, Cory Coulter, who wore a king’s crown as he poured the chili for customers.

Coulter said the key to making great chili is “consistency, fresh ingredients and experience.”

Not to be outdone, the New Martinsville Church of God was serving their own brand of tasty goodness a sweet and mild chili.

“It is a lot of fun to make, sell and greet people with a good bowl of chili,” said Brian Spencer as he poured a bit of the church’s heaven-inspired chili.

Nearby, Carla and Shannon McBee of CAM Safety in New Martinsville were handing out candy to little kids or their parents who needed to cool the mouth’s chili fires.

“We hope to win because I think we have the best chili in town,” said Carla McBee, who gave credit to her homegrown tomatoes for the chili’s natural taste. “Our chili is a tad spicy, but sweet.”

Shannon McBee added, “The best of the festival is getting to talk to everyone. We’ve served at least 100 people and we’re having a lot of fun.”

Legions of people lined up for New Life Ministries in New Martinsville’s chili that was not too hot, but with a little bite in it.

“It’s a good day for eating chili,” said Will Sherrill, New Life area director. “It is a little bit cold, so people want a little bit of chili.”

Sherrill’s wife, Rachel, added, “I’m having a great time serving chili, seeing some friends at this great community gathering.”