WAXAHACHIE — When Melissa Johnson first appeared at a Gingerbread House chili cook-off, she was a quintessential "runaway bride." While others donned aprons and blue jeans, Johnson was dressed for a wedding — complete with a white gown, veil, and heels and her storyline that she "left him at the altar because I just could not miss coming here to cook chili."

That was in 2013.

Johnson, of Avalon, returned Friday night, this time accompanied by husband, David Johnson, who was not ever really left standing at an altar. The happy couple was, however, ready to seriously cook competitive chili.

In 2013, Johnson won the overall showmanship award, partly due to her knee-slapping story and also because of, well, the wedding dress. Four years later, she saw that showmanship award and raised it a first place overall title.

Because of her efforts, Johnson took home the coveted hand-painted commemorative camp stovetop and qualified to compete in Terlingua with the top chili cooks during the Terlingua Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI) championship.

Mark Sanders, the Great Pepper of the NOW Chili Pod, explained that with her first place finish on Friday evening, Johnson automatically won the trip to Terlingua, rather than having to accumulate the twelve points that CASI generally requires.

“This is my first time to go to Terlingua and compete with the nation’s top CASI chili cooks. It is a different world down there, and this will be a very exciting experience for me. And, my husband will be going with me,” Johnson said “Besides cooking here and trying for the chance to go to Terlingua, this cook-off has a whole different meaning for me. My purpose is to benefit the Waxahachie Gingerbread House. It is dear to my heart because it is a facility where abused children can go and feel safe and be with people that care about them.”