Junior League chili cook-off brings autumnal bonding

Graham Shapley

As the weather gets chilly in the late months of the year, Fort Collins residents were able to come together over big pots of chili.

picture of wolverine farm
Wolverine Farm Letterpress and Publick House provides coffee, beer and books, as advertised on a sign outside, and plays host to many community events. (Graham Shapley | The Collegian)

On Nov. 16, the Junior League of Fort Collins hosted a chili cook-off and celebration of the harvest season, allowing attendees to help themselves to unlimited samples of chili. At the end of the day, there was a vote on which chilis the tasters felt were the best or most creative takes on the staple stew.


“I think people get excited about a little competition,” said Morgan Vanek, the organizer of the event and the chair of the Junior League’s Fund Development Committee. “It’s a point of pride to be able to say that you have the best chili at a chili competition, even though people have different tastes. I think it inspires people to put their best foot forward.”

The cook-off took place at Wolverine Farm Letterpress and Publick House, a local bar, cafe and publisher tucked away just north of Old Town.

In a time when the term “harvest” has lost much of its meaning due to produce being available year-round from a grocery store no more than a few blocks away, the fall season still encourages people to get together as a community. 

“I think the meaning of harvest is warm, comfy and cozy,” said Morgan Colwell, executive vice president of the Junior League. “As the weather starts to change, everybody starts to crave those classics.”

Although Thanksgiving and other family-and-friend gathering traditions come up toward the end of November, the Junior League saw an opportunity for gatherings earlier in the month.

I think it just warms your soul and fills your belly.” -Morgan Colwell, executive vice president of the Junior League

“We really wanted to put an event together that celebrates the season,” Vanek said. “We noticed a lot of people weren’t really doing events celebrating autumn, the harvest season, in that traditional way of warming up as the weather cools down.”

The selection of chilis on trial was diverse. Classic meat, tomato and bean red chilis con carne bubbled away in the cookers, and a couple of green chilis made their presence known. Some more experimental chilis also were available: vegan butternut squash chili, spicy Italian sausage chili, chorizo and pumpkin chipotle chili and several more takes on the same concept. Everyone has their own idea of what makes a good chili.

“For me, a good chili is spicy and chunky,” Vanek said.

Some felt that chili isn’t about the ingredients or style but about the way that it makes you feel, regardless of its flavor.

“I think it just warms your soul and fills your belly,” Colwell said. “I think it’s about spreading your horizons and trying new things.”


“It’s hearty and super warm and filling,” said Jonathan Baker, an attendee of the event. “It reminds me of winter.”

The cook-off’s purpose wasn’t only to bring the community together over delicious chili; it was also to raise funds and awareness for the Junior League’s outreach programs.

The volunteer organization aims to support women and children through career opportunities and resources. They help women access professional clothing for the workplace with their Career Closet program, and they partner with the Food Bank for Larimer County to provide snacks for kids in need.

Graham Shapley can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com and on Twitter @shapleygraham