Food & Drink

17th Annual Sussex County Chili Contest Brings The Heat To The New Jersey State Fair

Colleen Russell center, Melissa Rowe left and Palmer Papson right, show off their winning smiles and awards. Credits: Lisa Russo
Judges Lynn Bourinaris, Sean McAleer and Mark Rabe taste some of the delicious Chili. Credits: Credits: Lisa Russo
Chili competitors Ian and his mom Kelly Palazzi enjoying the contest.   Credits: Credits: Lisa Russo
Judges in deliberation. Credits: Credits: Lisa Russo
Lots of Chili tasting going on. Credits: Credits: Lisa Russo
Credits: Credits: Lisa Russo
Barbecue Pavilion Credits: Credits: Lisa Russo
Karelann Herkaler proud mom of 9 yr. old Melannie who entered her famous "Melannie's Garden Chili" recipe. Credits: Credits: Lisa Russo
9 yr. old Melannie Carlsen used all fresh ingredients from moms garden to create "Melannie's Garden Chili" Credits: Credits: Lisa Russo
James Pagnanella enjoying the festivities with his daughter Gail and wife Janice. Credits: Credits: Lisa Russo
Kelly Palazzi collects her 3rd place award. Credits: Credits: Lisa Russo
Crowd waits patiently to taste the all the amazing Chili. Credits: Credits: Lisa Russo
Chair Person Robin Casper fills the crowd in on the rules of the contest. Credits: Credits: Lisa Russo

 AUGUSTA, NJ – Hundreds of Hungry Chili Fanatics braved the sweltering heat and sometimes severe weather to be a part of the “17th Annual Sussex County Chili Contest”, held inside the Barbecue Pavilion at the New Jersey State Fair on Sunday.

The event was sponsored by Pierson Excavating and C & W Aero Services.   

The competitors came from all over the state, both far and wide to compete for cash prizes, ribbon awards and “Bragging Rights”.

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The cash prize awards in the four separate Chili categories were $250 for first place, $150 for second place, and $100 for third place. Winners were also awarded first, second, and third place ribbons.

Karelann Herkaler of Lafayette, entered her 9-year-old daughter Melannie’s favorite chili recipe.

She said, “Melannie loves helping me make our Chili. Everything is grown fresh right in our own backyard garden and that’s how we came up with the name “Melannie’s Garden Chili."

Melannie attends Northern Hills Acadamy Special Childrens School in Sparta.

Kathy Palazzi of South Hackensack and her 11-year-old son Ian Hoffman came up with two great ideas for this year’s competition.

Kathy said, "The day after last year’s contest two great new ideas came to mind for next year’s competition. Ian would make Bullseye Chili for the no Beans category and I would make a tasty low-fat Buffalo Meat recipe Chili and call it Reservation Chili."

The Chili categories were:

A. Chili : Meat (without Beans)

B. Chili : Con Carne (with Beans)

C. Chili : Vegetable : No Meat, animal fats or broth

D. Chili : Seafood Only

All Chili dishes were judged on sensory qualities such as taste, texture, appearance, and creativity. They were also judged on Creativity of Presentation, and the judges deeming the “Most Creative” with a special award.

In charge of organizing and running the event was chairperson Robin Casper, and assisting with the festivities were Corrine Coulter, Tom Coulter, Bob Matthews, and Carole Mills.

On hand to judge the competition were some prestigious members of the New Jersey Culinary community.

Chef Lynn Bourinaris who is Executive Chef / Culinary Arts Adjunct Professor for the Hospitality & Restaurant Management Program at Sussex County Community College and Sussex County Technical School.  

Lynn said, "This is my first year judging the contest and am thrilled to be a part of the event."

Chef Mark Rabe from Oak Ridge, who has successfully published recipes and has been a Chef/Owner at several New Jersey area restaurants, also judged the competition. This was his fourth time as a judge in the competition.

Sean McAleer who is a former Chef and graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, and currently owns and operates a very successful backyard deck remodeling company called This is Sean’s 15TH year as a judge in the Chili competition.

There was a fourth judge scheduled to be on hand for the event, Tom Povenelli, but was unable to attend due to a more pressing engagement. His wife went into labor. Congratulations to the Povenelli’s.

There were so many entrees with great Chili recipes from all over the state.

Section A. Chili : Meat without Beans

Kelly Palazzi – South Hackensack

Jeremy Hunt – Newton

Katie O’Malley, Justin Labrie

Colleen Russell – Tranquility

Karelann Herkaler and her 9 year old Daughter Melannie – Lafeyette

Section B. Chili Con Carne with Beans

Melissa Rowe – Newton

Ian Hoffman (11 years old) – South Hackensack

Kyle Klitch, Chantalle Godbout – Oak Ridge

Troy Orr – Branchville

James, Janice and Gail Pagnanella – Sussex

Dawn Dembrowsly – Newton

Thomas Marrone – Wayne

Lucy Rudeau – Newton

Lisa Lentini-Pombro – Middlesex

James Pombro – Middlesex

Mark J. Occhiuzzo – Blairstown

Anthony Mazzola – Glenwood

Section C. Vegetarian Chili

Melissa Rowe – Newton

Donna Papson – Sussex

Palmer Papson – Sussex

There were no entrees for the Seafood only category.

The judges deliberated for over an hour, and when the scores were finally tallied up and the results were in, chairperson  Robin Casper announced the winners.

2012 Chili Contest Results

A. Chili: meat without beans

1st: Colleen Russell, Tranquility

2nd: Thomas Marrone, Wayne

3rd: Kelly Palazzi, South Hackensack

B. Chili: Con Carne [with beans]

1st: Melissa Rowe, Newton

2nd: James Pombiro, Middlesex

3rd: Thomas Marrone, Wayne

C. Chili: Vegetable : No meat, animal fats or broth

1st: Palmer Papson, Sussex

2nd: Melissa Rowe, Newton

3rd: Donna Papson, Sussex

Best Presentation award: Donna Papson, Sussex

All Around Grand Champion: Colleen Russell, Tranquility

2nd: Palmer Papson, Sussex

3rd: Melissa Rowe, Newton

At the completion of the competition all of the Delicious Chili Dishes were on sale for $1.00 per bowl to the many hungry spectators on hand. We tasted so many great recipes at the Chili Contest.

From 9 year old “Melannie’s Garden Chili” and James Pagnanella and his daughter Gail’s “Godfather Chicken Chili” to 11 year old Ian Hoffman’s “Bullseye Chili”, they all tasted great. All in all the event was an overwhelming success, and in this Chef’s heart and mind, 


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