Kilgore closes-in on cook-off


“It is full-on, full-speed ahead, and we’ll be there in a week,” Nicole Oubre says.

The organizers of the annual East Texas Oilmen’s Chili Cook-off shaved about seven days off their schedule this year, a calendar-required change to keep the event out of the way of Halloween.

It shifted the traditional first-Thursday-in-November competition to the last Thursday in October; volunteers are keeping an eye on the clock as they finalize preparations to open the gates and spoon up the chili at 10:30 a.m. Oct. 26.

Oubre and Kevin Kranzman are co-chairing the fundraiser again: officially, it lasts about three-and-a-half hours on one fall day, but the overall effort includes two to three days of frenzied activity following months of planning and prep-work.

This year, the cook-off celebrates its 25th year downtown, once more taking over a healthy stretch of Commerce Street and surrounding the World’s Richest Acre.

“It began with eight companies 25 years ago,” Oubre added. “Since then, it has grown tremendously,” with proceeds in recent years benefiting, in large part, the East Texas Treatment Center’s sponsorship fund.

“It’s a sight to behold, in less than 48 hours a normal downtown street is turned into an event with 50-plus cook trailers, oilfield companies as far as the eye can see, and we welcome 10,000 people to come and taste all the chili the companies cook.”

As of Tuesday morning, there 73 cook-teams on tap for the Oct. 26 competition, limited to companies linked to the oilfield. Last year’s event drew 62 competitors.

A three-day affair between moving in, setting up, hanging out, cooking-off and breaking down, the peak of the event will see thousands of people on Commerce Street when the chili officially starts flowing that Thursday morning.

“The street’s already mapped out,” Oubre said this weekend. “I’ve already contacted all the teams,” and ETTC Marketing Director Amber Kinsey is putting together their welcome bags amid other build-up tasks shared between the treatment center and the cook-off volunteers. “Really, right now it’s all kind of a wait-and-see until next week. On Monday, me and one of my directors will actually go out and walk the street.

Come Tuesday, “The (portable toilets) will go down, the fences will go up, the light plants will go in. Cookers will go in position Tuesday night. Wednesday morning we do supply runs from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m.”

After that, the first cooking begins and the opening night, private party will get underway as the oilfield employees reconnect with old friends made last year and years before.

“I’ve been involved for a little over 10 years,” Oubre said. “I think 25 years is a huge achievement for something to be supported in Kilgore, for it to be oil-based and for it to be nonprofit. For us to stay around through the oilfield’s ups and downs, I think that says something.

“I think it says a lot about oil companies in general. At least in this area, it’s one big family. They all do this to see each other, to hangout, to socialize, to shake hands. They’re doing this and donating money out of the goodness of their heart.”

After Wednesday night’s networking, the gates open to the public Thursday morning with admission set at $5 for an all-you-can-eat wristband – complete with ballots for guests to select their favorite concoctions as the cook-teams vie for honors.

“These companies come from all over Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma,” Oubre noted. “They compete for the Best in Show, Showmanship, People’s Choice and of course the best chili in the oilfield.”

After voting is completed – about, usually, when the chili is running out – announcements of the winners will follow at 1:30 p.m.

In less than 24 hours, “the guests of the chili cook-off and these oilfield companies can raise upwards of $40,000. That just takes my breath away,” Oubre said. “I don’t think there’s anything that comes together than seamlessly and raises that much money that fast.”

With this year’s earlier, October date, the organizers adopted a “Monster Bash” theme and borrowed a page from Universal’s “Frankenstein” to celebrate the event’s longevity: “It’s Alive at 25!”

That was important to the planners, Oubre said. It’s always a challenge to select each year’s theme, and this anniversary was especially important to capture.

“I think that says something about the oilfield,” she said, and its connection to the quarter-century fundraiser: “We have people out there that have been involved all 25 years” while they make their living in oil-and-gas: “It’s still alive, and it’s still providing for all of us and all of our families and this community.

“Hopefully, it will keep thriving.”

For more information, contact Oubre at 903-985-1259.