Salford residents came out by the dozens to support the first annual Chili Cook Off and raise money for a kitchen renovation at the Salford Hall

By Megan Stacey, The London Free Press

There's nothing like a chili cook off to warm up on a chilly January day.

If the crowds at the Salford Hall on Saturday were any indication, locals were more than happy to eat some chili in support of a good cause – a kitchen renovation on the wishlist of the Salford Hall and Park board.

The Salford Chili Cook Off was a brainchild of Valerie Durston, Ward 3 councillor and a member of the board.

“We’re raising funds to build the kitchen. We need renovations,” she said. “This is the first time we’ve done anything like this, and we’re hoping we can do it annually."

Durston went door knocking to coax cooks into entering their chili. There were 14 different pots, including offerings from South-West Oxford Mayor David Mayberry, the fire department, Village Cheese Mill, Southland Railway, as well as Durston and a number of other organizations and community members.

Oxford MPP Ernie Hardeman – who once represented the area on South-West Oxford council and still lives in Salford – stopped by to eat his fill of chili.

“I was on this Hall Board, I was one of the original people that helped raise money to convert this from a school,” he said. “So this is definitely home.”

He didn’t leave any pots of chili untested – except for a few that were held back as reserve – and said they were all "very, very good."

Hardeman said he tends to favour chili with a little heat.

“If it’s real mild I think it’s kind of like pork and beans. To be chili, you’ve got to have a bit of spice,” he said. Entries were divided by level of spice, with hot, medium and mild categories to help guide the taste testers.

Caren Treur and her younger brothers were loyal to their mom’s chili, saying it was their favourite.

And they weren’t the only ones. Joanne Treur’s entry took home first place.

“My mom said for chili there’s not really a certain amount of spice that you put in. Some people like spicy chili, but some people like mild. Everyone has different tastes,” said Caren, 10.

“My mom said it’s not too hot, but it’s not like there’s no spice in it.”

Joanne Treur also manages bookings for the Salford Hall, the highest-usage facility in the township, said board members.

“The kitchen is in a state where we have to start repairing. Our stove is at the end, we need new cupboards – we need updated facilities so the public can continue to use it,” Durston said.

It’s time that kitchen had a little TLC, agreed board member Andy Bruggeman.

“The kitchen is the original kitchen from when (the hall) was a school. Everything wears out. I know the sinks are getting worn out, the taps, the stove,” he said.

The board would also like to add a dishwasher.

A community fundraiser like a chili cook off was a great way to reach out to frequent users of the hall, organizers added.

“Those that didn’t come really missed an excellent meal,” said Bruggeman, who entered a secret recipe chili made with local beef and beans.

Durston wants to see the hall – and the local connections that are forged there – thrive for many years to come.

“We need to keep our rural roots,” she said.

“That’s the goal of the hall, to serve the community and build community."