WAXAHACHIE — When the doors opened at the Ellis County Expo Center Friday, chili cooks for all over the state began moving in for a weekend of chili cooking and competition. The annual event is held by the Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI) in support of the Gingerbread House and helps chili cooks get their required number of points to go the Terlingua International cook-off.

Friday’s cook-off was for the serious cooks, who were tasked with cooking course ground meat chili.

“There are no beans allowed here,” Mark Sanders said.

The Friday cook-off also supports the NOW pod, a group of chili cooks in Ellis County and neighboring area.

By late Friday evening, the aroma of meat and spices began to fill the center with each cook preparing their special recipe. The winner of the Friday night competition is automatically guaranteed a spot in the Terlingua cook-off. Cooks from all over the state — as far away as Houston, Marble Falls and Meridian — were in attendance vying for the coveted spot and were also more than happy to be helping raise funds for The Gingerbread House.

Plus, as Carrie Kinnison of Marble Falls said, “This also a family time." Kinnison, a former Terlingua competitor, is vying for a chance to return and improve her standing. In her first appearance, she finished 18th out of over 300 competitors at the national competition. This weekend, however, her daughters and granddaughters joined her.

“I come up here every year to see my chili people and support the Gingerbread House,” Kinnison added.

Also at the expo center in support of the fundraiser was Jason Goains, who was up from Meridian.

"I started cooking is 2010. In 2014, I was named the Terlingua Grand Champion. I really do not have to cook because being a Terlingua Champion, I’m automatically qualified every year,” Goains said.

Early Saturday, the main cook-off began with more than 100 cooks entering the center to put their recipe to the test. Unlike Friday’s contest there were be several classes — both CASI and Non-CASI qualifying that included no beans, chili with beans, a division for junior cooks, local or novice cooks and a showman division.

“All of the proceeds from Saturday's and Sunday's cook-off go to the Gingerbread House,” Kay Lefler, a cook-off organizer said. "As with Friday’s cook-off, all the cooks are vying for points to work their way to Terlingua. A cook must have a total of 12 points from CASI organized cook-offs. For a first place, a cook will earn four points; second place will receive three points, third place will add two points to their totals and places four through ten will get one point."

The final cook-off happens Sunday afternoon, which is the same as Friday night's as it is a CASI chili only competition.

The Gingerbread Chili Cook Off is the primary fundraiser for the Gingerbread House.

“We operate solely on donations and this fundraiser.” Executive Director John Wycoff said.

Executive board member Lee Auvenshine added, “The Gingerbread House is the only countywide entity that provides a place to conduct interviews of abused children to be interviewed. Being interviewed at the house provides various law enforcement agencies to discretely observe an interview conducted by a trained counselor so their testimony will be heard in court without having the child relive the traumatic experience and begin the counseling,”

On the heels of Auvenshine, Executive Board member Kelley Cruzan said “we have a fine group of counselors that work with the children. Honestly, they do a job that I would have a difficult time doing. Therefore, I help with the fundraising for this event and others we hold. Helping with fundraising, we raise funds so that those that work directly with the children can do their job."

The names of the winners of the various cook-offs were not available at press time. Those winners will appear in the Tuesday edition of the Waxahachie Daily Light.