This Saturday in the Jo’s Coffee parking lot, locals will gather to conjure up their best chili and learn how to two-step while also benefitting the Lila Tenenbown Recovery Fund at the Jo’s Sixth Annual Chili Cold Blood Chili Cook-Off.
“It’s a very Texas experience,” communications director Isadora McKeon said. “A lot of people might not be from Texas, so this is a great way to get a glimpse into that.”
The event will begin at 11 a.m. and includes the chili cook-off, two-step lessons and a two-step competition, live band performances, a bake sale by Katy Cupcakes and a silent auction.
This cook-off differs from years past because all proceeds will go to the Lila Tenenbown Recovery Fund. For the past two years, money raised by the cook-off has been donated to the nonprofit Caritas of Austin, which provides services to the poor.
This year’s benefactor, Lila Tenenbown, was recently diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 32 and has dedicated her work at the SIMS Foundation to helping provide mental health and addiction recovery services for Austin-area musicians and their families. Tenenbown has also attended the cook-off in years past, so the community has been very enthusiastic to give back to her.
“She’s always the person to work at charitable events, so it’s nice to be able to give back to her,” McKeon said. “She has so many friends that would do anything to help out.”
More than anything, the preparations for the benefit have created a support system for Tenenbown, allowing her to undergo her chemotherapy treatments in Houston.
“Because of the community I’ve been able to focus on healing, which is the best gift of all,” Tenenbown said.
Additionally, Tenenbown is looking forward to the opportunity to spread awareness about the severity and possibility of breast cancer in young women. She plans to do this by answering any questions and serving as a sign of courage for young women in the community.
“It’s going to be meaningful for anyone that’s been affected by breast cancer, but not everyone realizes how many young women are affected by it,” Tenenbown said. “They need to get their self-checks, to see through any suspicions. Until it’s in your world you don’t see it much.”
Although the day has a very personal and meaningful significance to Tenenbown, she is also anticipating the chili competition. The event, she says, always brings out the best in people.
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema executive chef John Bullington competed in the cook-off last year and hopes to improve on his second place finish from last year. Although he will be competing against 14 other qualified chili enthusiasts, Bullington says he always feels as though he’s really only competing against himself to win the prizes, which include a coveted slow cooker trophy and a place on the artisan hot dog restaurant Frank’s menu. Proceeds from chili sales at Frank will also go to the recovery fund.
“It’s only really competitive in your own mind,” Bullington said. “You’re not throwing salt into anyone’s chili.”
To stand out in a competition in which everyone is cooking the same familiar comfort food, Bullington makes his lamb and pork chili stand out by toasting his own spices, cutting his own meat and holding off on the beans.
“I’ve been cooking chili all my life,” Bullington said. “It’s one of those things about being Texan; if you can’t make a good one, you’re not a true Texan.”
The chili cookers have said they enjoy the camaraderie of standing behind their pots and creating their unique recipes, while the two-steppers get the opportunity to teach newbies the Texan dance for free in the morning. These activities, along with the bake sale, live music and silent auction all strive to give back to a woman who has built her livelihood on just that.
“The event embodies the spirit of Austin I love the most,” Tenenbown said. “We take care of each other. It’s a love I can’t put into words.”