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Geology department hosts chili cook-off competition

After the long and relentless winter Grand Valley State University has struggled through, the GVSU geology department is planning to warm up a little with its annual chili cook-off competition today.

The competition, started by professor Peter Riemersma, is open to all geology students and faculty.

In its tenth year, the cook-off is expected to draw 60 to 70 people out of the geology department’s 90 students and 12 faculty. In the past, multiple deans have taken part in the event, as well as GVSU’s president Thomas Haas.

Chilies may be submitted by students and professors and are judged in multiple categories including most popular chili, best overall chili, best student chili, silver certificate student chili, best vegetarian chili, most geological chili and spiciest chili. Awards will also be given out for best side dish and the most geological dessert.

“Especially after a long winter, chili is a good cold weather food,” Riemersma said. “And as geologists, it’s something that we bring camping.”

This year, there will be an additional prize up for grabs. Fresh Food Co. chef Paul Mixa will be in attendance, and he will choose his favorite chili. Whichever recipe he chooses will then be served at Fresh Food Co. to the student body.

“I’m particularly excited about having a real chef judge, then choosing a recipe and feeding the masses. That really appeals to me a lot,” Riemersma said. “(Mixa) promised me that he would actually make that chili and serve it at campus dining. That’s kind of the big news that I’m really excited about this year.”

Riemersma got the idea to have a chili cook-off from his own days as a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After coming to GVSU to teach, Riemersma brought the chili contest with him. Though the geology department is relatively small, he said he thinks it’s important for the students and faculty to spend more time together out of the classroom.

“All the geology students have this thing that brings them together,” Riemersma said. “No one else has this cool departmental thing. It makes them feel special because their department has this. It creates an atmosphere where the students feel special or valued. It’s worth putting something like this on because we like our students. We want to spend time with our students not just in the classroom lecturing; we want to spend time eating with them, talking with them about whatever. It’s one of the things that contribute to the atmosphere and relationships. I’m a big believer that lots of little things add up to make a big difference.”

For Riemersma, a department that has good relationships with its students is exactly what GVSU stresses.

“That’s part of what Grand Valley’s trying to be,” he said. “We want to have those sorts of atmospheres where students feel valued, where they feel they can approach their professors and faculty, and this sort of event encourages that. It helps that develop.”

Though the event is simply a chance to mingle and eat a wide variety of chili, Riemersma thinks the outcome reaches much further than a full stomach.

“Oftentimes, there’s the academics – classes and tests – but there’s a lot of value with having interactions with faculty and students outside of the normal classroom setting,” he said. “It’s eating and talking about food, trying different things. There’s uncertainty and risk – some of these chilies are really hot – so it’s an exciting thing to share communally.

“One of the important things is just doing something different than just normal classes. After a student hangs out with all their professors, maybe they’ll be less hesitant to visit that professor and talk to them during their office hours because they just ate chili with them and talked about a certain chili. Those sorts of informal interactions can have some long term influences.”

The winners of each category receive a trophy in the shape of a chili pepper created by another geology professor.

Last year’s winner in the “most popular” category was a student, but much younger than the average geology student.

“My son, who I dragged to these before he started school, actually submitted a recipe last year, the first meal he ever made himself,” Riemersma said. “I made him do everything. He had to fry the meat, get splattered with the grease, and his, by a narrow margin, won most popular, best overall. He was 10, so he was pretty excited about that.”

Since the geology department has been hosting this event for a decade, there have been some well-loved recipes.

“I’ve been getting recipes for the more popular ones and sharing them with everyone that comes,” Riemersma said. “We’ve been doing this for 10 years, so I’m not too far from having a whole cookbook of these great chili recipes.”

For those interested in attending, the tasting will begin at 11:30 a.m. in Padnos 128 and will continue until 12:45 p.m.



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