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Renton family building chili cook-off dynasty

Award-winning chili cook Larry Gholston and his award-winning, chili-cooking granddaughters, Sophie and Maddie Pluntze and their loot. - Tracey Compton, Renton Reporter
Award-winning chili cook Larry Gholston and his award-winning, chili-cooking granddaughters, Sophie and Maddie Pluntze and their loot.
— image credit: Tracey Compton, Renton Reporter

Two generations of Renton chili cookers are sweeping the state competition and don’t show any signs of cooling off.

Fourteen-year-old Maddie Pluntze won the State Chili Championship in Olympia earlier this month. Her 7-year-old sister, Sophie, took home seventh place, while their grandparents, Larry and Barbara Gholston, placed ninth and eighth respectively.

“Maddie cooked against seasoned (cooks), years and years of experience and they’re all quite impressed that a little 14-year-old was coming in beating them after five years of cooking,” said Janet Pluntze, her mother.

Maddie put her chili up against 10 other pots in the homestyle category and the “Texas Red” or Chili Appreciation Society International category. This is the second year her chili has earned first place.

“There’s really no recipe, I guess. I sort of throw in ingredients,” Maddie said laughing.

She started experimenting in the kitchen with her grandparents when she was 3 or 4, she said, helping them make pies. She started entering chili cook-offs when she was 9.

“I think there’s a general concept of the recipe and then you are tasting each time,” said Janet. “There’s no set recipe, but they have a process they go through to make the chili and Maddie has a few secret ingredients that she uses.”

In the two categories, homestyle means anything goes. There can be beans, pasta, meat, vegetables - whatever the cook chooses. In the “Texas Red” or CASI category it’s just meat and sauce. Maddie won in both categories at state.

“My sister’s a really good cook,” Sophie chimes in.

Their grandparents have been competing in chili cook-offs for a number of years and got involved with CASI because of the camaraderie.

“We like to socialize and to meet new people,” said Larry. “And we got into (CASI) originally for the fundraising for charities...”

“So our grandkids are out-placing us, which is what you want as they progress and learn how to cook and get their own recipes going,” he said. “What better reward could we have than have them beat us in placing?”

The family members also use their cooking expertise for good, having fed first responders recently in Oso. They cooked chili for about 500 people near Darrington, they said.

“It was a great experience for the girls to just be aware that there are people not as fortunate, who’ve had hard times,” said their mother. “And we cooked for them they were very appreciative and we all had a wonderful time.”

This weekend the family will be feeding about 1,000 people at the Feed the Troops event in Poulsbo.

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