Chili Cook-off: A state of mind
There is a time of year at NASA’s Johnson Space Center that rivals the spirit of Christmas, the pride of Independence Day and the sweetness of one’s own birthday, where all walks of life come together for the supreme adoration of chili and chili accessories; this extraordinary event is called the JSC FOD Chili Cook-off. This year was the 39th of the event, and hundreds of competitors and partakers gathered at the Gilruth Center on April 8 to test their taste buds and witness the crowning chili champion of 2017.
 
Hard work, dedication and a competitive spirit are what fuels Johnson, and this chili-powered event was no exception. There were 63 chili teams, all remarkable in the execution of their booths, games and chili, but one stood out slightly for showmanship from the rest: Aresistable. They won the showmanship award for 2017 with their troll-themed, rainbow explosion booth, equipped with an army of trolls giving away sweets and participating in skits and games. Raptor Chili was a close second, sporting a Tyrannosaurus Rex mascot and surround-sound booth, while Spare Parts Chili took third with an originally designed robot powered by—of course—chili. 

Winning team
The winning showmanship team for 2017: Aresistable. Image Credit: NASA/James Blair
 
Speaking of chili, the teams who won high marks for the most palatable meaty stew went to Gridiron Girl Chili with a first-place win, followed by Chiligirl Unicorn Showdown in second and Mean Gene Chili in third. (See the rest of the winners at the chili cook-off website here.)

The event wouldn’t still be here today, 39 years later, if not for all those at JSC responsible for making it happen. Center Operations, Flight Operations, Safety and Mission Assurance, the Information Resources Directorate and countless JSC team members pull together to make memories—and delicious chili—during one Saturday each year. Milt Heflin, a legend at Johnson who’s been here since the first cook-off in 1979—which he won—is now the longtime chairman over the judges on the committee and handles the celebrity judges who pick the winning chili.

The festivities began the Friday before cook-off, as propaganda was counted in as many buildings as possible, and skits were performed on the steps of Building 1. Many spectators poured out of their offices to see what the giant Tyrannosaurus rex was doing in the lobby and smiled at the band of trolls singing with banners and cake balls in tow. 
 
Saturday morning started with the JSC showmanship judges scoring the storefronts of each booth. Then the games began, which included a grapefruit pass, spoon on a string and the classic tiebreaker of who could form a human pyramid the fastest. 
 
Tom Diegelman has been attending the cook-off for 23 years—with 19 of those as chairman of Showmanship. He said that this event gives him the opportunity to provide the environment to inspire creativity in teams and for people to have fun. He also mentioned the importance of this event continuing for the community. 

“This is one time a year that everyone, no exception, gets to party and let their hair down,” Diegelman said. “We live and work in a very serious and tension-filled environment. On chili cook-off day, we relax and have good, clean, family fun. Some of the relationships made in that one day per year have endured for decades. That is the spirit of the NASA family.”

Speaking of the NASA family, engineer Tanya Rogers met her boyfriend at this event. After two years, they finally got together.

“The chili cook-off holds a special place in my heart full of good memories,” Rogers said. “We attended the chili cook-off this year, as a couple, and had a blast walking down memory lane. Every year we add a new chapter to our chili cook-off love story.”

Gary Jordan, a former co-op turned full-timer, volunteered on the Charmander Chili team this year. He said, “The energy surrounding the event is amazing. Everyone is laughing and smiling and excited to see you. It’s always a good time, and the chili is the best in the world.”

Family, friends and food are the things that keep people ticking, bringing communities together.  Chili cook-off is a state of mind, one that encompasses the legacy of teamwork and goodwill that spills out into work environments across the center. Whether you prefer your chili hot or mild, the NASA family, as a whole, prefers it communal.   
 
See more pictures from the event in the gallery below. 

Anna Seils
NASA Johnson Space Center
 
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