Heavenly Flavors, Hellish Competition

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“Having good chili isn’t enough,” remarked a competitive guest, “You have to have a gimmick – something they’ll remember your chili by.” Indeed, competition is fierce – there are around 15 varieties in the long line of simmering crock pots. Some used unexpected ingredients, such as duck or pineapple. Others had playful names like,”You Never Sausage Chili.”

A charming, autumn-inspired entryway leads guests to the backyard

The Lewis family does a chili cook-off right. There are plenty of fixings on hand to liven up any bowl, such as shredded cheese, sour cream, fresh-baked cornbread and corn chips. To keep kids occupied, there are heaping trays of chicken nuggets and a mulch-bottomed playground. For the adults, there’s an open bar stacked with small-batch moonshine and ice cold kegs of beer.

Guests come hungry and eat small samples. First-timers usually become too full to try each chili.

As guests enjoy the brisk autumn air, they huddle over bowls of spicy chili and stand around a fire, trying hard to find out which guest brought what chili. Both the cooks and the voters remain anonymous to keep it fair, and the winner takes home an actual trophy!


This annual tradition marks the beginning of the holiday season, and the Lewis family invites friends, family and neighbors alike. This coveted invite promises treats beyond chili. Mulled spice wine simmered on the stove. A deer hunter brought venison-stuffed jalapenos. Not to mention the company. Hostess Melanie Lewis can be described as Pinteresting. This mother of three knits gorgeous scarves, bakes chocolate chip cookies from scratch with her children and crafts like Martha. Brett Lewis is the CEO of Create Digital, a digital marketing company that’s ahead of their time and at least five steps ahead of most Richmond agencies.

Hosts Brett and Melanie Lewis. The hostess stays chic in a leather jacket and magenta scarf she knit herself.

As I stood on the deck, I noticed the leaves were aglow of every color and the air smelled of wood smoke. The setting sun cast an orange glow over the guests. Women hugged and men compared their “Movember” starter beards. This scene of camaraderie belied the hellish underpinnings of competition. These guests were having a blast no doubt. But they also came to win.

Playful couple Mandy Blankenship and Charlie Rhodes are to be wed at Veritas Vineyard in a matter of weeks.




One thought on “Heavenly Flavors, Hellish Competition

  1. Thank you so much for such lovely words and wonderful pictures. We are so glad you guys were there with us! You looked amazing, H couldn’t be any cuter and I loved Bobby’s chili. Thank you for writing this it brought the biggest smile to my face.


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