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Chili cook-off draws attention to Waukegan art community

Bowls made by DandeliGallery founder Michelle Miscenic-Patch were offered those attending chili cook-off for $10 donation. They included all chili

Bowls made by Dandelion Gallery founder Michelle Miscenic-Patch were offered to those attending the chili cook-off for a $10 donation. They included all the chili the taster desired. | TINA JOHANSSON/FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA

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Hottest — Ryan Pence (Lake Villa)

Most Innovative Ingredients — Lizzie Lenz-Crampton (Lake Forest)

Best Presentation — Aybars Emsun (Waukegan)

Best Taste — Vicki Vaughan (Waukegan)

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Updated: February 14, 2014 6:20AM

Vickie Vaughan of Waukegan won the “Best Taste Overall” in the inaugural chili cook-off last Saturday that was sponsored by the Dandelion Gallery to raise funds for scholarships for art students at Waukegan High School.

On a chilly night, the chili seemed to warm the hearts of nearly 100 people who attended the festive event at the artist cooperative that’s located one block east of Sheridan Road on the east side of Waukegan.

Michelle Miscenic-Patch, the gallery’s founder, said money raised from the contest will go toward awarding three $500 scholarships. The recipients will also be able to showcase their works at the gallery.

“It’s very successful considering this is our first chili cook-off to raise funds for the scholarships. We certainly will do it again next year,” she said.

Vaughan’s winning chili included bacon and chorizo, a Mexican sausage, to give it “a little kick.”

There were 14 entries, with each entrant paying a $30 registration to compete in four categories. The contestants had made their chili at home and kept it warm in crock pots at the gallery. Each brought at least three quarts of his or her concoction.

Aybars Emsun of Waukegan, glittering in a be-jeweled turban to reflect his Turkish heritage, won in the “Best Presentation” category. Interestingly, among his ingredients, was chocolate. He also added both chicken and beef broth to the mix.

“I included all these to see how it would work out,” he said.

Lizzie Lenz-Crampton of Lake Forest was the winner in the “Most Innovative Ingredients” category. Hers was a vegetarian’s delight. There was no meat in her chili; it was all vegetables.

The “Hottest Chili” title went to Ryan Pence of Lake Villa. He acknowledged using sufficient amount of jalapeno to achieve the heat effect but declined to give out his secret.

All winners were awarded trophies and other prizes, including hand-made aprons and a choice of an art object.

The cost to sample all the chili by the public was $5 per person. For $10, the tasters were given a hand-made pottery bowl.

Jane Ferry, executive director of Waukegan Main Street, called the turnout “spectacular on a cold, damp Saturday night.”

Kerry Biegay, executive vice president of NorStates Bank in Waukegan, showed up with his daughter Angela, a Waukegan police officer.

“This is a wonderful evening. It Bestbrings the community together,” he said, adding, “Anything that breathes life to downtown is great.”

Bob Sobol, owner of Green Town Restaurant which is located across the street from the Dandelion Gallery, stressed the importance for downtown businesses to network and band together.

“We need to help each other to succeed. Together, we can have a lot of power,” he said.

Florence Yoo, a singer and song writer, came from Evanston with her friend Laurie Hartung, a music teacher at Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago.

“The chili is delicious and the artwork is innovative and beautiful,” said Yoo.

Hartung said she had never been to Waukegan before, although she had heard about it.

“It’s cute and the buildings have characters,” she said of the downtown.

While the night was still young, the chili was getting low in the contestants’ pots. But the conversation flowed warmly.

“This is a great cause for the young people. I think more children should be involved in art,” said Lisa Justin of Gurnee, one of the contestants.

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