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In its 20th year, Palladium Society’s Chili Cook-Off has all the right ingredients

James Quint, Historic Columbia’s director of education, stirs a pot of chili at the Palladium Society Chili Cook-Off last year.
James Quint, Historic Columbia’s director of education, stirs a pot of chili at the Palladium Society Chili Cook-Off last year.

The Palladium Society has been boiling beans and browning beef while stewing it all together with tomatoes and onions as well as other secrets for 20 years now.

The event has lasted through the decades, becoming a reliable good time for folks who attend. But what might seem like an easy celebration of a simple, American staple takes more than throwing it all together in a pot.

From the celebrated stew to the music, a lot of work goes into making the chili cook-off a delicious happening.

RELATED: How to make a great competition chili

The Palladium Society’s annual event, featuring a variety of all-you-can-eat chili, as well as an open beer and wine bar, serves as a fundraiser for Historic Columbia, the preservation and outreach organization that runs the Robert Mills House and other properties.

This year’s event is Saturday, Feb. 24, at the Music Farm.


For Blocker, getting a soundtrack ready for the cook-off has taken a hearty wherewithal. One of two musical acts for the day, the band is the leadened take on the works of Jade Janay Blocker, a Columbia singer-songwriter. Her acoustic indie-pop based around her pristine-but-never-too-clean voice and personal narrative lyrics deceptively lend themselves to electric guitars and a mic’d up drum kit.

Blocker, one of the bands scheduled to perform at the Chili Cook-Off, features Columbia singer-songwriter Jade Janay Blocker and “a loud rock band,” according to bassist Garrick Turner. Courtesy of Jade Janay Blocker

“She laid such a groundwork of performances throughout the years, people are like, ‘We know she’s good, but here’s a new twist on it,’ ” says Garrick Turner, Blocker’s bass player. “She sounds really good with a loud rock band. It really is a pretty rocking group. Her music is heavier than it comes across acoustically.”

The musician behind the songs and the players around her are all veterans, but they haven’t been able to rest on their laurels in preparation for the Palladium Society cook-off. With the band’s usual guitarist unavailable, the group has made some lineup changes – and they’re figuring out exactly what they’re going to do at the chili cook-off.

Songs have to be learned, and a ringer on guitar has to hone in his part. They need to time the mellowed-out acoustic numbers in a 90-minute set from a typical 30- to 45-minute burner. And who knows how guts full of chili and booze during the daylight hours might affect people’s ears?

“I would say we might be more of a night band, so we’ll see,” Turner says. “This isn’t automatic. … We’re getting our ingredients for our chili-rock going.”


No chili-rock would be going on if it wasn’t for the titular bowl fodder that’s at the heart of the Palladium Society fundraiser. Taking just as much work as the music is the chili.

Jeff Hoskins knows a thing or two about making pots full of the stuff.

Since 1997, Hoskins has made chili for the masses. Thousands have consumed his Nuclear Meltdown Chili.

“We do it for everybody now – friends and family. It’s grown over 20 years,” Hoskins says.

Favorite chili toppings are available for festivalgoers to add to samples. Courtesy of Historic Columbia

Making a pot of chili takes up to 14 pounds of beef and large cans of beans and tomatoes. That’s for his Texas Red chili – and he’s been making the stuff for so long now, the process comes natural to him. The harder task might be convincing people that his vegetarian chili, which once won second place overall at a competition, isn’t sacrilege.

“A lot won’t try the vegetarian,” Hoskins says. “But when they come by and are like, ‘Oh that’s vegetarian. Nope.’ I’m like, ‘Just try it. You paid to get in the door.’ Once you get them to try it, they’re like, ‘Wow, that is pretty good.’ 

Hoskins has two goals when he’s working these chili-centric happenings. One is to have a good time. The other? Not to take any chili home.

After 13 years of chili making at the Palladium Society chili cook-off, will history repeat itself with those goals?

“I’m confident on that every time,” he says. “At the chili cook-off, I’m going to have a good time.”

If you go

The Palladium Society’s 2018 Chili Cook-Off

WHEN: 5:30-8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24.

WHERE: Music Farm, 1022 Senate St.

TICKETS: $35 in advance, $40 at the door. Discounts are available for Palladium Society and Historic Columbia members.

WORTH NOTING: VIP tickets, $55 and available only in advance, give chili eaters an extra hour at the event, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., to start enjoying drinks and chili; the opportunity to mingle with chili judges; access to a separate VIP bar throughout the event; free entry to Tin Roof the evening of the cook-off; and VIP spirits tastings, including one free specialty cocktail.

INFO: www.historiccolumbia.org/chili.