Goings Claims the Gold as OHS Rekindles Chili Cook-off

By Samuel Lopez, staff writer
A crowd of people lined up at pots of chili

The Chili Cook-off drew 22 competitors and a large crowd in its first year back on campus since 2019. (Photo by Samuel Lopez.)

NCI Frederick has a new chili champion. Dawn Goings, administrative assistant in Environment, Health, and Safety, blazed her way through a heated competition to clinch first place in the 17th Chili Cook-off.

The cook-off, a storied lunch-hour tradition at NCI Frederick, returned to campus this year for the first time since 2019, rising phoenix-like from the ashes of the pandemic. Occupational Health Services resurrected the once-annual event, previously known as the Protective Services Chili Cook-off.

“We had an overwhelming response, with 22 crock pots of chili and cornbread to taste. … It was pleasant to see all the smiling faces and network with fellow connoisseurs,” said OHS Manager Sarah Hooper, who coordinated the event alongside Werner H. Kirsten interns Abigail Lieu and Gracia Mulangu.

Judging by the sizable turnout, employees were hot to see the competition revived. Paul Marshall, a wise-cracking cook-off competitor (and an environmental safety officer when he’s on the clock), joked that employees had clearly been suffering from a “chili latency.” So many people eagerly dug into the chili that late-comers arrived to find a few entries had been completely devoured by earlier arrivals.

Such was the case with Goings’ winning entry—an improvised recipe—which was gone within an hour. Her chili stoked enough tastebuds to garner 40 votes, narrowly beating second-place finisher Celeste Lashley, OHS associate, whose chili received a still-impressive 35 votes.

“I was shocked and humbled. There was a lot of good chili made by all those who participated,” said Goings of her win. “I think my home-canned tomatoes made the difference.”

Goings buys her “secret ingredient” tomatoes from a farmer in Kearnesyville, West Virginia. She does the canning herself, a tradition she learned from her grandmother.

For her victory, Goings received the traditional prize, a reserved parking spot for two weeks—and the even more coveted year’s worth of bragging rights.

Her victory is doubly impressive in that she overcame a surprise twist: Jim Stull, who is believed to hold the record for most cook-off wins, was invited out of retirement and back to campus to compete.

“I hadn’t planned to compete. I was just going to bring some in for the heck of it, but I was told to go ahead and compete,” said Stull, a former animal care supervisor in the Laboratory Animal Sciences Program. “There are so many good ones here this year!”

Prior to the votes being tallied, Stull added that he particularly enjoyed entry number one, the anonymized tag assigned to Goings’ entry. Even when he doesn’t win, it would seem he still knows what makes a great chili.

The More Things Change…

The competition this year came with a few other changes. As a precaution against COVID-19 and other illnesses, attendees were required to use hand sanitizer before entering the room. Each was also assigned a cup and spoon, and some even brought their own.

Other things hadn’t changed at all. Like in pre-pandemic years, the room buzzed with laughter and chatter as employees connected with colleagues and savored the food. The tantalizing tang of sweet and spicy scents filled the air and wafted down the corridor. Several people bemoaned their oncoming food comas. Others remarked that they wanted to get the recipe of their favorite entry.

And, of course, there was plenty of the event’s signature trash talk between competitors. Some jokingly alleged that the voting had been rigged, perhaps spurred on after overhearing taunts like, “You can have my votes as soon as your check clears.” A handful kept it up even as they collected their crock pots and made their way to the exits after the competition was over.

But no matter how much they disputed whose chili was best, everyone readily agreed on one thing: it was good to see the cook-off thriving again.


The top five competitors and their entry numbers follow:

1st place: Dawn Goings (#1)
2nd place: Celeste Lashley (#2)
3rd place: Jim Farling (#17)
4th place: Deanna Gotte (#22)
5th place: Greg Ragan (#20)


A Winning Formula

For any chili enthusiasts who missed the cook-off, below is the recipe for Goings’ winning chili:

“I didn’t measure everything and just added stuff a little at a time until I thought it looked good [and] tasted good,” said Goings.

Olive oil
1–1 ½ pounds ground beef
Goya Adobo seasoning
1 onion, diced
Approx. 1 Tbsp of garlic
One half of a jalapeño pepper, diced very small
2 quarts of tomatoes (home-canned)
1 heaping Tbsp of chicken base
1 can/jar of red beans, drained and rinsed well
1 pint jar of black beans (home-canned, do not drain or rinse)
Approx. 2 Tbsp of chili powder
Dash of pepper

Sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil until just done. Remove from pot and set aside.

Add more olive oil to pot and brown the meat, sprinkling with Adobo seasoning as it cooks. Drain liquid from the browning of the meat.

Add onion and garlic into the meat.

Add the rest of the ingredients, except for jalapeño.

Sauté the jalapeño by itself and add to the pot.



Samuel Lopez leads the editorial team in Scientific Publications, Graphics & Media (SPGM). He writes for newsletters; informally serves as an institutional historian; and edits scientific manuscripts, corporate documents, and sundry other written media. SPGM is the creative services department and hub for editing, illustration, graphic design, formatting, multimedia, and training in these areas.

Dawn Goings, the 17th Chili Cook-off champion, poses with the sign for her reserved parking space. (Photo by Sarah Hooper.) Many employees enjoyed the opportunity to relax, sample the food, and network over lunch. (Photo by Samuel Lopez.) Karen Saylor’s entry (#18, foreground) and Jim Farling’s third-place entry (#17, background, left) were both among the spiciest. The competition coordinators placed a “spiciness scale” of chili stickers on each entry’s voting bag so attendees knew what to expect. (Photo by Samuel Lopez.) Werner H. Kirsten interns and event co-coordinators Abigail Lieu and Gracia Mulangu further spiced up the event with their own artwork. For attendees looking to walk away with more than just a full stomach, Occupational Health Services also provided a spread of handouts and educational materials. (Photo by Samuel Lopez)