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Chili cook-off spices up Sunday service at Allison Park

From left, second-place Regis Thornton, first-place Dan Durkacs, and third-place Laurie Rice celebrate their success at the chili cook-off at Allison Park Church in Center Township on Sunday morning, Feb. 25. William Pitts/Butler Eagle. 2/25/2024

CENTER TWP — There was a little extra spice — literally — to services at Allison Park Church at the Clearview Mall, which hosted a chili cook-off Sunday morning, Feb. 25.

When all was said and done, Dan Durkacs emerged as the winner for his Texas chili, taking home the first prize of $50, as well as a trophy and a celebratory apron. Durkacs collected 61 votes, 22 more than second-place Regis Thornton.

“I was surprised. Of all the great chilies that came here, I was surprised I won,” Durkacs said.

Ten cooks entered the competition, bringing all kinds of recipes with them.

“We have everything from elk meat to regular hamburger as the ingredients,” said event organizer Tammy Miller. “And we have everything from mild peppers to really hot habanero peppers in there.”

According to Miller, this is the fourth chili cook-off held at the Butler campus of the church, which also has locations in Pittsburgh and Allison Park. However, this is the first cook-off to be held since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each guest received five “chili tokens” to vote on their favorites. There were no restrictions on how tokens could be used — voters could spread their five out evenly among five different contestants or put all five of their votes toward one contestant.

The organizers also put safeguards in place to ensure that guests did not consume chili with ingredients that they may be allergic to, or otherwise be forbidden from consuming due to their beliefs.

“Some people don't eat pork, so we labeled that one,” Miller said. “We labeled ‘spicy’ for the kids so that a kid didn't have to do something that would irritate their stomach.”

While Dukacs was surprised to win first place, even more surprised to win an award was Thornton, who took home second place for his venison chili. Thornton says this is the first time he has entered a chili cook-off. Not only that, but he managed to outdo his own mother, Eileen, who also entered the competition.

“She had the Steelers pot over there,” said Thornton, pointing to a yellow chili pot with a Pittsburgh Steelers logo on it. “We thought maybe putting the Steelers on there might influence the vote, but maybe people don't like the Steelers anymore.”

Thornton, who collected 39 votes, also made sure to give credit to Dukacs for his first-place chili.

“He brings food in for the volunteers here. He has some awesome food. His chili was really good,” Thornton said.

CAPTION 959: Emcee Sam Goldman announces the winners of the chili cook-off at Allison Park Church in Center Township on Sunday morning, Feb. 25. William Pitts/Butler Eagle. 2/25/2024
From left, Robin Pikur and Paul Taimuty try out the chili at the chili cook-off at Allison Park Church in Center Township on Sunday morning, Feb. 25. William Pitts/Butler Eagle. 2/25/2024
A crowd of visitors tries out the chili at the chili cook-off at Allison Park Church in Center Township on Sunday morning, Feb. 25. William Pitts/Butler Eagle. 2/25/2024

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