Nation’s Longest Running Vegetarian Chili Cook-Off Needs Your Help

Vegetarian Chili Cook Off Austin TexasThis guest post is by Fletch Brendan Good and Stevie Duda.

Did you know that the nation’s longest-running vegetarian chili cook-off has been taking place in Austin every November since 2004, and in Texas since 1989?

We’re talking about the Lone Star Vegetarian Chili Cook-Off. This year’s edition (the 24th) is on Sunday, November 11th, at the historic Burnet Road Farmers Market.

It’s sponsored by The Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts, and benefits the Texas Humane Legislation Network.

Most years, nearly 1,000 people come to taste these amazing chilis, cooked by amateurs and professionals without using meat or any animal products. Traditionalists would say we aren’t making “real” chili. Yes, one of our slogans is “keeping chili weird.” But the truth is that vegan chilis aren’t always, or even usually, very weird. Most are made with regular ingredients, like beans and peppers, or use meat substitutes. They turn out just as delicious as the proverbial “bowl of red.”

The event offers a lot more than just chili tasting. This year, we’ve lined up live music from local roots rock and blues duo Tombstone Bullies, plus vegan food vendors (like vegan funnel cake!), cooking demos by Natural Epicurean, farm stands, door prizes, kids activities, and pet adoptions. And we’re working on plans for a first-ever timed competition between two chefs (like a Food Network show), called “Speed Chili.”

But we want you to know that this year’s event almost didn’t get out of the gate. We’re still a long way from the finish, with very little time left.

Austin Vegetarian Chili Cook Off

Not Enough Chili?!

Right now, there aren’t enough chili teams registered. Having enough chili to serve the crowd is THE most important part. You can’t have a chili cook-off without chili!  It does take time and money to cook a lot of chili (five gallons, actually) on-site, but there are cash prizes and trophies to win.

Participating is also an excellent way to promote your business or cause. You don’t even have to be vegetarian or vegan to make vegan chili! And that’s exactly what Shirley Wilkes-Johnson, the matriarch of veganism in Texas, was thinking back in 1989. When she founded the chili cook-off, she wanted to help the general public view vegan food less…weirdly.

Sadly, Shirley passed away unexpectedly in April of 2011. She handed the cook-off over to other people years before. But without her spirit, enthusiasm and support, last year’s event had difficulty getting up to speed. In the end, about 500 people came to Round Rock to see 20 teams make chili, and it turned out very well. This year, circumstances in the lives of the 2011 organizers prevented them from taking on the 2012 event. The chili cook-off was seriously in jeopardy of cancellation.

That’s where the two of us came in. Brendan had talked informally with the organizers about planning the event if they couldn’t. Stevie was quite reluctant, especially after Brendan lost his job.  Soon after, Stevie lost hers too.

Encouragement…From Beyond?

As August 2012 became September, and the cook-off’s fate became dependent on someone new stepping up, Stevie began losing sleep. We don’t know if you believe in ghosts, but we really think Shirley Wilkes-Johnson’s spirit was telling her we had to save the chili cook-off.  After many nights like this, she finally said, “Okay, I’m in.”  And off we went.  Since we’ve never done something on this scale before, we don’t exactly know what we’re doing, but we are learning fast.

Austin Vegetarian Chili Cook Off

Keeping Chili Weird

So now, we need your help. We need a few more chili teams to reach our minimum, and several more to have a wide selection of 20-25 chilis. It’s a lot of fun, and actually pretty easy to “veganize” a chili recipe by using vegetables and/or plant-based proteins.

Don’t worry if you aren’t a pro. This event favors rookies, as four of the last five champions were beginners! And if you have a business or organization and would like to sponsor a chili team, we can hook you up with people who want to enter, but need support. We also are still accepting door prize donations, vendor and exhibitor registrations, and volunteers for the day of the cook-off.

The Lone Star Vegetarian Chili Cook-Off has lasted over two decades, and will continue for many more if this year is successful. If you’d like to help us, go to, call 512.377.9893, or email

When: Sunday, November 11th, 2012 from 12-4 PM.

Where: 6701 Burnet Road Market, Austin

Cost: $7-$10

Brendan and Stevie co-produce the Austin Vegetarian Living newsletter for the Vegetarian Network of Austin.  They also co-organize the Austin Progressive Vegetarians Meetup group, as well as the semi-annual Gathering of the Tribes, Austin’s largest vegan potluck picnic.

  • Desi

    This event is so much fun. And it’s fun to be a chili cook. You really don’t have to know what you’re doing. I served burnt chili one year, and even though I didn’t win, a few guests enjoyed that “smoky” flavor. There are vegan police to help you make sure your ingredients are vegan, in case you’re not sure. And as an entrant, you get to try everyone else’s chili, too. It’s always good times.

    • Stevie

      Thanks for the comments, Desi! We are happy a to report that the cook-off has overcome its first huge hurdle and we now have the necessary number of chili teams needed to serve the crowd. But we still need a few more to be able to deliver the best chili cook-off experience. The first Veterans’ group to enter a team will have their entry fee waived, please email to set that up. For those who might be wondering about vegan ingredients, there’s a list of non-vegan ingredients on the Rules page (under Contestants) on the website. And just for the record, they aren’t really “vegan police”, they just check ingredients to ensure the festival is 100% vegan.

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  • Stevie

    We’re very excited that we currently have 22 teams, just hours before today’s 5:00 food permit deadline! That means we’ll have plenty of chili to serve. The cook-off is rain or shine, but there’s lots of shelter in case of precipitation. And the forecast for Sunday is starting to look better each day!

    • Brittany Highland

      This is wonderful to hear!