The Buckingham recently hosted a chili cookoff to celebrate the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Photo credit: The Buckingham.

When they say everything is bigger in Texas, it is not an exaggeration. At The Buckingham in Houston, the annual chili cookoff best exemplifies this saying. What started as a small event is now a Texas-sized shindig with a little spice.

“It has been a tradition for the past 13 years; 2011 was our first competition, and we took two years off during COVID-19,” said Shannon Schmidt, director of life engagement at the continuing care retirement community. “It always happens on Go Texan Day. People come in from all over to see the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, so it just fits. We’ve just grown it every year. It keeps getting bigger.”

Eleven teams competed in the cookoff, and the entries were assessed by a panel of judges including Lester Binnick, a senior professional at the American Culinary Federation; Monica Pope, a local chef and restaurant owner; and Bruce Bain, a member of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo chairman’s club. Each chili had its own unique flavor, with ingredients ranging from cocoa to whiskey. But it is not just a day for flavor; it is a day for friendship. 

“Everyone is really able to enjoy on the same level and this is an event that everyone enjoys [regardless of] abilities,” Schmidt said. “It’s something where the staff can bring their families and they get excited about showing them where they work, and the residents have an opportunity to compete. It’s the only day of the year when employees here have the opportunity to wear blue jeans, so a lot of people take advantage of that.”

To the delight of residents, the winner of the competition was Buckingham cook Douglas Arevalo. His winning chili soon will be available on the cafeteria menu for people to try. Now it is time to start preparing for next year’s competition. 

“This is his first year competing, and he didn’t expect to win,” Schmidt said. “He got his name put on the trophy, and he has massive bragging rights. I think even if he hadn’t won, he still had a great time introducing his family to where he works. We have two spots left on the trophy before we have to buy a second trophy, so I guess we get two more good years out of it.”

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