MOUNT JACKSON—The sun shined down on Mount Jackson’s inaugural chili cook-off Saturday afternoon as vendors, families and 19 chili-chefs made their way out to to the town hall.

Plans for Saturday’s cook-off have been in the works for months and have evolved over time, said John Boor, chairman of the Mount Jackson Hometown Partnership, the group that organized the cook-off, said.

“The thought of a chili cook-off wasn’t our original thought. But we had a time frame,” Boor said. “We originally started with some sort of Valentine’s Day get together. The idea was to have a chili cook-off because I’ve seen the other towns have them. And they’ve been a success.”

Aspiring cooks of all ages threw their names in the ring to compete for the top prize.

Children, teens and adults could all participate and five judges handed out ribbons for the best mild, medium and hot chilis.

Mount Jackson Police Chief Jeffrey Sterner was one of the judges. Sterner said he enjoyed the day and was surprised by some of the entries.

“There were some very different tastes,” Sterner said. “There was a white chili, which I’m not used to eating, that came off pretty well.”

Of all the chilis, Sterner said he liked the hot ones the best, even though spicy foods aren’t usually to his taste.

Jonathan Banks cooked up the hottest chili of the day, taking home the blue ribbon in that category. Banks, who grew up in Texas and moved to Bayse five years ago, said his secret was the chili blend he used along with the tequila he cooked with.

“I used chili picayune peppers, I bought ‘em from the Hispanic store there in Mount Jackson so I could soak them in water and tequila,” Banks said. “I used beef and pork in it, some jalapenos, some onions and some secret chili powder mix and let it simmer for two days.”

Banks slow-cooking turned out a spicy slow-burn chili that knocked judges over and pulled him to the top of the heap.

Banks wasn’t the only member of his family to bring home a ribbon. His daughter, Bridget, won the blue ribbon for best mild chili from a teen and his wife Elizabeth won third place for the adult mild category.

Chilis ranged in spice, texture and flavor as well as unique ingredients.

Keith Derenouard took home a blue ribbon in the adult medium competition for his beer chili.

“It’s just a beer chili I’ve been working on for years now,” Derenouard said. “I came up with it in college years and years ago and I’ve been fine-tuning it ever since.”

As competitors have been fine-tuning their recipes, the town of Mount Jackson has been fine-tuning its approach to town events over the years. Mayor Bucky Miller, said he spoke with Boor and other residents over a year ago and asked them to figure out a way to bring some events back to the town.

“We need to get a group of volunteers together to be the backbone of these festivals and these different events because everyone wants ‘em,” Miller said. “It’s tough for the town to do it ourselves…we can’t expect the town itself to just do it.”

Boor took up the challenge and pitched his idea of the Hometown Partnership and a chili cook-off to the Town Council. He suggested to them that the partnership could help bring tourism and revenue to Mount Jackson.

“We understand that Mount Jackson has, not been taking a back seat, but has been out of the picture compared to the other towns,” Boor said. “What we’re trying to do here is bring more people here.”

Miller said he was thrilled with the event. Everything from the weather to the turnout worked out well, he said. And he expects greater things to come.

“I told John [Boor],” he said, “you ought to be proud and a little scared...You set the bar pretty high for the first one…it shows what a community will do when they get together.”

– Contact Max Thornberry at