Chili Cook-Off Connects Veterans to Campus

Naming the chili is half the fun of participating in the Annual USF Office of Veterans Services Chili Cook-Off. Photo courtesy of OVS.

Naming the chili is half the fun of participating in the Annual USF Office of Veterans Services Chili Cook-Off. Photo courtesy of OVS.

Over the last five years the University of South Florida Office of Veterans Services has worked to raise its visibility among the estimated 1,400 student veterans on campus and provide them resources.

One way USF Veterans Services has gained a lot of notice is its annual Chili Cook-Off.

This year, the Office of Veterans Services 5th Annual Chili Cook-Off is scheduled 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Nov. 5, 2014 at the Marshall Center Amphitheater on the Tampa Campus, 4202 E. Fowler Ave.

Evan Itle, associate director of the USF Office of Veterans Affairs, says the Chili Cook-Off has grown in popularity and may hit their maximum of 24 participants this year.

“There actually could be people we’ve got to tell no,” Itle said. “And we don’t want to tell people no.”

In fact, they’re excited about bringing in new participants from beyond the USF Tampa Campus such as the Temple Terrace Chamber of Commerce which plans to enter a chili dish.

The cook-off also works as an outreach event for both student veterans and other students on campus. More than 400 students, faculty and USF staff attended the free 2013 event to taste-test the entries.

Royce Thomas, last year's winner of the chili cook-off.

Royce Thomas, last year’s winner of the chili cook-off.

Last year’s winning recipe came from the home kitchen of Royce Thomas, location manager for the Fresh Foods Company USF Dining facility. He didn’t divulge his recipe, but did share a major secret to “great chili” is cumin.

“The way that I like my chili profile to come across is a little sweet up front and a little hot in the back,” Thomas said.

It’s a matter of pride to Thomas that he used his own home recipe to beat out 19 other competitors because to him, chili is a comfort food.

“We used to have chili night in college and everybody would come with a bunch of ingredients and make chili and have a good time,” Thomas said. “You can make chili a thousand different ways and that’s what I love about it, there is no one, great chili.”

He was surprised to win the competition in 2013 and declined to enter this year so others from his dining facility could try their hand.

“It’s really about the cause. It’s not about the competition, it’s not about the chili,” Thomas said.

Royce Thomas shows off his trophy for last year's winning chili recipe.

Royce Thomas shows off his trophy for last year’s winning chili recipe.

And that cause is the USF Office of Veterans Affairs. Director Larry Braue said the office has grown in visibility along with the contest that went from about 200 the first year to more than 400 participants in 2013.

“We have a vision to go beyond this and not just tie our veterans to the USF community, but to tie them to the Tampa Bay community,” Braue said.

The 5th Annual USF OVS Chili Cook-Off is one of several events planned for Veterans Week at USF. Student veterans will be honored at a football game that includes a tailgate graduation bash. There’s an expo of veteran services and a Veterans Day Ceremony on Nov. 4, 2014 that will feature Medal of Honor Recipient Army Ranger Master Sergeant Leroy Petry.

Braue said the wounded warrior will speak to USF student veterans about life after the Army and life after the military and to USF student athletes.

“He’s a typical student veteran, although he’s not a typical man, he will be on a campus just like all of our student veterans going to school and earning his degree,” Braue said.

You can learn more about the 5th Annual Chili Cook-Off, the Veterans’ Week Ceremony and Expo and the USF Office of Veterans Affairs.

Reporting for the WUSF Veterans Coming Home project is made possible by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

2012 in review: Stories for Veterans and Military Families

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