• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff

Here's Johnny - Chili contest 'not rigged'

And I know, because I am that judge, and because I tried to rig it. For the second year in a row, I was one of the judges for the annual Jack Kain Ford (JKF) Chili Cook-Off. This year's edition, held at lunchtime Monday, was the 13th. Before walking upstairs to the judicial chambers, I approached some of those I knew to be contestants and offered to really, really like their chili in exchange for cash, major service discounts or a good back rub. Their integrity was admirable, but a bit disheartening for a crooked judge. It's dangerous, being a judge these days. In our nation's capital, there's someone who will, if he doesn't like your ruling, call you a "so-called judge," or suggest that even a child would have come to a different conclusion. However, as a veteran who risked life and limb for our nation - well, as a Navy journalist, more like fingertips and larynx - I rarely flinch at such opportunities, particularly if they involve JKF employee-made chili. Last year, as I wrote in the Feb. 4 edition of Here's Johnny, I learned an important lesson: just taste each sample, because even though there are only a few bites in each, inhaling the contents of 10 of them can dull the mind and bloat the body. Once again, though, I disregarded the advice of contest organizer Donna Sturgeon and finished every last one. So did fellow judge Sheriff Wayne "Tiny" Wright. By the time the judging was done, neither of us was quite as tiny as we were pre-contest. The other judges were WVLK radio host and former LEX-18 colleague Dave "Kruser" Krusenklaus, Cumulus radio promotions director Patrick Scott, Hot 102.5 DJ Spencer ("Hot" is the first half of the name of the station, not my description of Spencer's appearance) and former UK quarterback Freddie Maggard. We were given score sheets with four categories: aroma, texture, color and flavor, and heat. Each category would be given a score between one and five, with one being "I'd keeping working on it" to five being "perfect." Someone resembling myself asked if there was a calculator handy for the sheriff. More amused than insulted, he pointed to his phone, but as luck would have it, none of us had to tally the scores. Donna did so, which now has me wondering whether she had more success than I in rigging the contest for personal gain. Hmmm ... Before the first series of cups were brought to us, Donna explained that the crackers before us were palate cleansers. She also told us that two of the original nine contestants had called in sick and wouldn't be participating. This made sense to us judges, as there wasn't a category for "contagious." Before the first set was brought out, Patrick asked, "Can we Facebook Live this?" I think he was kidding. Midway through the judging, he said, "Dude, we need to do this every year!" A few minutes later, the sheriff exclaimed, "Ooh, it's chunky!" A few seconds afterwards, he added, "And hot!" Spencer, who'd said early-on that none of the samples seemed particularly spicy, announced that his tongue was tingling. "You spoke too soon," Patrick pointed out. Freddie asked if any of us had Rolaids. We didn't, but the cups kept coming (there were three walk-on contestants, making for a total of 10) and we kept eating. "My taste buds are numb or something," said Freddie, who, while wearing blue had been knocked numb by more than one SEC lineman. When it was all over, Donna gathered the score sheets and the judges walked downstairs. Bob Kain announced the names of people with a February birthday or work anniversary as well as the employee of the month. He also introduced all the judges. Kruser got the biggest hand, which seemed rigged to me. Lori Russell, who's worked at JKF "going on six years," won the contest, by several points (or dollars?) and her name will be inscribed on the giant JKF Chili Cook-Off trophy. (There really is such a trophy.) But I'd like to think there were no losers Monday at Jack Kain Ford. Every bite of chili was good or better, no one called us "so-called" judges, and lunch consisted of larger samples of the very stuff we'd rated, along with pimento cheese and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. There was dessert, too, but I'm only human, and didn't partake I'm stuffed and sleepy as I finish this column, but there's a container full of antacid tablets within arm's reach and a certain vintage recliner (aka the Dirty Recliner) on the other side of my desk. Goodnight, y'all. P.S. Thanks to my second-favorite Woodford County resident for the tray of Valentine's Day treats she brought to The Sun Mondaymorning. I had a cupcake to warm up for the chili cook-off.

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