It’s not a stretch to say that Mike Dallas and Michelle Dallas are running their own food truck now because of the support they’ve received at the Chugwater Chili Cook-Off.
They’ve been going to the annual competition for years as spectators. Michelle Dallas can remember running around the Diamond Ranch, where the cook-off was held for many years, as a child, while trying to grab as many samples as she could. She can remember the happy memories her family has while tasting the incredible morsels of red and green chili, the wonderful salsa, and jamming to the live music or partaking in the games.
But when Mike Dallas began competing in the cook-off around a decade ago, Michelle Dallas began helping her father perfect his red and green chili recipes. Since he started attending as a competitor, Mike Dallas has regularly received top marks in the competitions, even taking top prizes at times.
About five years ago, he had to face a new competitor, though: his daughter.
“I don’t mind bragging on my dad about how well he’s done at the competition,” she said. “But I’m really gunning to beat him in the green chili category this year. He usually does much better than me in red chili, and while I know what he does to make it taste so good, I also can’t just copy him. So I have to try to do my own thing.”
Last year, Mike Dallas placed fourth in the red chili category and first in green chili. Michelle Dallas came in third in the green chili contest.
On Saturday, people can see the father and daughter competing against each other, as well as dozens of others at the annual cook-off, which will be held at Staats Park in Chugwater.
The morning will begin early for the Dallas family, but the event officially kicks off around 9 a.m. for spectators. In addition to the chili, there will be vendors, an art and quilt show, and performances from artists like Tris Munsick, Prairie Wildfire and Flint Hill Special. There will also be games for children, a beer tent for those 21 and older and a ranch rodeo.
The chili tastings will begin just after 1 p.m., following the judges’ samplings, and the Dallases both recommended getting to the park as soon as you can.
“If they start at 1 p.m., you need to be there probably a good 15 minutes before them,” Michelle Dallas said. “Because if you think you can get there at 2 p.m. and be able to try all the chili, that’s just not going to happen. People will run out of chili quickly, and I want people to be able to take in as much as possible.”
Guests can partake in a people’s choice award, where they can vote on their favorite red and green chili, as well as salsa.
Mike Dallas and Michelle Dallas agreed that while winning the contests is fun, that’s not why they attend year after year.
“This is kind of the start of our season, so we get to see people we haven’t seen since September or even last summer,” Mike Dallas said.
“We just like mingling with the other cooks at the cook-off. Sure, there’s some friendly competition, but it’s more about getting our name out to the people and having fun spending time together.”
As Mike Dallas continued to compete at the cook-off, and when Michelle Dallas came in as a contestant, guests began to regularly ask the two if they had a restaurant. Their chili was that high-quality. They admit, it’s pretty incredible to hear compliments like this.
As they continued to receive praise from judges and guests alike, they finally decided to start marketing their chili. In 2017, they began selling packets of their special chili spices. Earlier this year, they started up Fat Howard’s Chili Company, a food truck that can be seen at various events in the Laramie County area. They can be found at the United Way Food Truck Rally on June 20.
“I think if you’ve never been to the cook-off, you definitely need to make time for it,” Michelle Dallas said. “I know it’s summer and there’s a ton of stuff going on, but the Chugwater Chili Cook-Off is worth it. If you’re interested in competing, they’re always looking for cooks. It’s just a lot of fun, and you get to try some great chili.”