An Illinois real estate agent who bowled over the judges with an "extra tweak" of her jalapeno peppers has won the world championship cookoff of the International Chili Society.Maureen Barrett, 52, of Willow Springs, Ill., outcooked more than 160 competitors Sunday to win the 43rd World's Championship Chili Cookoff, a three-day contest in Charleston thronged by thousands of chili lovers.
Barrett won $25,000 for her bowl of traditional red chili, in which she said an "extra tweak of jalapeno" might have swayed the judges looking for a perfect blend of meat and spices during judging at Appalachian Power Park, a minor league baseball venue.
This year, 167 cooks qualified for the three-day championship, with 28 reaching the finals table.
Barrett and nine others qualified Fridya night for the championship at the Last Chance Cookoff at the ballpark.
"I am telling you it's just amazing, kind of like winning the Miss America pageant -- very thrilling," Barrett said following a victory dinner with family and friends. "It just really hasn't sunk in yet."
Barrett said she's been a competitive chili cook for 13 years, a relatively short time compared to the hundreds of chiliheads who travel the country competing in events that serve as qualifiers for the world's championship.
Doug Roy of Florida was the runner-up, and a pair of Californians, John Jepson and Mike Hulka, followed, with Dione Cooley of Nevada finishing fifth.
Barrett said she basically stuck with the same recipe she used Friday except, "I kicked it out and made it a little hotter. Just a little tweaking, a little more jalapeno sauce from a green bottle."
This was the first time the ICS has held its championship east of the Mississippi River.
"When you get here, it's very difficult, there are so many previous champions cooking and so many people that have been cooking chili for a lot more years than me," Barrett said. "It's just a shock."