SCARBOROUGH – Three weeks ago, Paul Williams found a chili recipe tucked inside a hat his late grandfather wore when he was a lieutenant in the Portland Fire Department.

The recipe was dated 1948 and called for venison, molasses and cinnamon.

With a little tweaking to include beef, Williams entered the recipe in the Southern Maine Regional Chili Cook-off on Sunday at Scarborough Downs.

Williams’ chili won first place in the People’s Choice category, which came with a $250 prize. He also won for best booth — “The Chili Shack” — and showmanship.

The annual event, which is sanctioned by the International Chili Society, draws cooks from across the U.S. to compete for cash prizes and a chance to compete in the World Chili Championship in October in Manchester, N.H.

“Mine’s too sweet for the judges,” said Williams, whose concoction also won second place in the People’s Choice competition at Saturday’s Maine State Chili Championship in Wells.

“Nine of the 10 comments said ‘too sweet,’ but the people love it, so what am I supposed to do?”

The competition drew 18 cooks who are registered with the International Chili Society and 17 entries in the competition for the People’s Choice award.

Jim Heywood, of Red Hook, N.Y., was vying for anther shot at the world championship title. He said he competes in about a dozen chili cooking competitions each summer.

“There’s a lot of love in there,” Heywood said, stirring his pot of chili. “There a lot of research, tradition, and ten different ground chili powders from a special place in Texas. This is fun.”

Brenda Varney, of Bangor, tasted Heywood’s chili. “It’s very good,” she said.

Mary Alice Kroptt won first prize in the red chili category. She and Sunday’s winners in the green chili and salsa categories will compete for the championship in October.

Williams, the People’s Choice winner, said his secret ingredients are love and family.

His 15-year-old daughter, Taylor Williams, might disagree. She took one for the team Sunday, trying her father’s chili for the first time that day. After some convincing from her brother, she scooped a tiny bit on a spoon and paused for a minute. “Oh my God, no, I can’t,” Taylor said. “I never, ever thought I would eat chili in my life. Eww, I don’t like that at all.”

The event raised more than $7,000 to support the Southern Maine Agency on Aging’s Meals on Wheels Program and the Good Shepherd Food Bank.

Larry Gross, executive director of the agency, said the event is a tremendous help.

“We have been really pleased to never have had a waiting list for the Meals on Wheels Program,” Gross said. “We are really fortunate because we have events like this.”

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

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