PLAINVILLE - Visitors to Central Café sampled 17 chili recipes Sunday and about a dozen devoured chicken wings by the pound.
It marked the eighth year that competitors vied in the King of the Wing and Chili Cook-Off Challenge, to benefit nonprofit family center PARC.
“We don’t plan on stopping here,” said Rob Papallo, who owns the café with his mother Shirley. “Hopefully every year this gets better and better.”
Restaurant staff meticulously orchestrated both contests, seeing to it that every participant had an even shot at winning.
They turn away professional eaters, welcoming only hungry wing-lovers to the 12-minute chow fest. That didn’t stop regular customers from attempting their own friendly game rigs, however.
Rex “T-Rex” Cooley had a band of friends-turned-adversaries out to hinder his speed and consumption.
“A couple of guys I know actually sponsored a couple of kids to beat me,” the Plainville resident explained. “Their job is to prevent me from winning.”
In his last seven years competing, Cooley has never reached the top spot, only second or third place.
“All the money goes to PARC so it’s cool,” he said casually. “The only downside is I don’t get to try any of the chili.”
PARC Executive Director Erica Donovan usually takes part in the wing eating, but this year she was a chili judge instead.
“It’s really incredible to see all these cooks come out with all these different kinds of chili,” Donovan said, dunking her spoon into a chorizo-laced contender.
In the last four years the café has donated over $5000 to the organization, which serves children and adults with developmental disabilities.
“Central Café is really generous,” Donovan pointed out. “It’s not just the entrance fees they donate; it’s a percentage of their whole take from the afternoon.”
This year’s funds will go towards enhancing arts and humanities activities at PARC, including a new healthy cooking program. Thirty people take part in center programming, which ranges from physical fitness to arts and crafts and life skills.
“We do our best to help our community,” Donovan added. “Today is just a wonderful way our community helps us back.”
She joined Tim Osach, former chef at J. Timothy’s and avid PARC supporter Chris Newton in judging chili recipes.
Burlington resident Kristen Lessard served up a venison variety.
“My family and I are avid hunters and we always have a freezer full of venison,” Lessard said. “This is my first time here.”
Scott Deprey of Plainville prided himself on a unique Hawaiian recipe, featuring a sweet and sour sauce and chunks of pineapple.
The youngest competitor was Ben LaPorto, 11, of Farmington. He was joined by his father, Frank, in presenting a spicy, smoky chili.
“We spent yesterday cooking it,” Ben said. “This morning we added the rest of the jalapenos.”
Friends Fallyn Kittelson, Carter Polverari, Tyler Goodall and Aaron Farino are regular bar patrons who decided on a whim to compete this year.
“We were here drinking one Sunday and they asked us to join,” Kittelson said.
Defending champion Michelle Kepler tried to replicate her winning recipe.
“It was my first time ever making chili,” she said. “I don’t know what I put in it but hopefully this tastes the same.”
This year’s winning chili cook was out-of-towner Hector Colon, a member of the Fire and Iron Motorcycle Club. After the Milford resident received the top prize of $150 cash, people headed into the lounge area to watch another group smother their faces in wing sauce.
“Just remember, keep your hands and feet away from the contestants when they start eating,” Cooley joked. “We will eat a limb.”
Dave Swanson was the wing-eating winner, downing 2.01 pounds of chicken.
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, or firstname.lastname@example.org.