Paula Peak, owner of Paula's Wine Knot Beer and Wine Bar, serves her Zombie Boogie chili during the Chilibowl benefit.
Paula Peak, owner of Paula's Wine Knot Beer and Wine Bar, serves her Zombie Boogie chili during the Chilibowl benefit.

By the end of the Monroe ChiliBowl benefit, members of the Julia V. Morris Community Garden had nabbed themselves the trophy for most original dish. Their prize: a tin can brimming with brown spotted beans.

Members suspect what stuck out was their list of simple ingredients. The peppers, beans and carrots were either harvested or representative of produce picked directly from the garden, which is organized for and supplies its sole beneficiary, the Sky Valley Food Bank.

“It was a fun thing to do with people you like,” said longtime community garden member Jo Pinnelle. “It was pure pleasure.”

Predicted to become an annual fixture, the new event was a collaboration between the Monroe Chamber of Commerce, Monroe Boys and Girls Club, food bank and East County Senior Center, said Jeff Rasmussen, boys and girls club unit director. Around 200 people packed into the cafeteria to test each recipe for free, and cast their vote for $1 each, or one can of food, he said.

The turnout was a pleasant surprise, said chamber executive director Yvonne Van Ornam, adding, “it was a new event on a Tuesday.”

By the end of the night $1,200 was raised for the boys and girls club, and 300 pounds of food was donated to the food bank, Rasmussen said. The affair served another purpose, he said.

The ChiliBowl was a chance for the entrants — all chamber members — to have some fun together, highlight their businesses and bring a little more awareness to some community resources, he said. The boys and girls club, senior center and food bank are all next-door neighbors, but tucked back in a quieter part of town, he said. 

Rules were straightforward: chili had to be in a crockpot and ready to serve by 5 p.m.. There was no requirement to be forthcoming about the origins of the concoctions, which had the potential to be right out of a can, he said.

Celebrity judges Monroe Mayor Geoffrey Thomas, District 5 Snohomish County Councilmember Sam Low and Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers were tasked Tuesday with awarding the winners of the spiciest, most original and meatiest stews at the East County Senior Center.

Low said it was tough to sift through this year's 15 entries. He doesn't eat chili often, but when he does, the spicier the better. Three more awards were handed out later that the judges had no hand in, he said.

Mother and daughter, Sue Graafstra, owner of Pharm A Save, and Toni Webster took the bronze medal in the people's choice category. When Rasmussen made the announcement, raucous cheers and rowdy congratulations from teammates and competitors alike erupted around the room.

“It's just chili,” Graafstra said after the excitement had died down, still grinning. “Just how my mom taught me.”

Megan Wirsching paired up with her husband, Sam, owner of Sam's Cats and Dogs Naturally, for the event. Megan Wirsching, chef of the hearty medley that won them the people's choice gold spoon, said she often tweaks her recipes to taste.

“We just wanted to be a part of it, and raise money for good causes,” Wirsching said. “(Sam) just loves giving back to the community, and taking care of our own people is very important.”

Monroe Public Schools won for spiciest, and Circle 7 for meatiest chili. Mr. Dizzy Motorsports and the Dashing Dutchman’s Deli took home the people's choice silver spoon, whose team members admit there may have been some bribery involved to win votes.