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Marble Falls chili champ’s secret? Follow the recipe

Marble Falls chili cook Ruby Ross returned to her winning ways with back-to-back victories at ‘Chilympiad’ and the Texas Ladies State Chili Championship. She’s punched her ticket to Terlingua, but Ross is eying a trifecta with the 2015 Howdy-Roo right around the corner. Courtesy photo

DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

MARBLE FALLS — After more than three decades competing on the chili circuit, Ruby Ross knows a thing or two about a good bowl of red. But she admitted it had been awhile since she earned a top spot in a cook-off.

“But, I’m back,” Ross said with a smile.

Ross recently won first place at the South Central Regional “Chilympiad” on Feb. 14 in Buda and the Texas Ladies State Chili Championship on April 18 in Seguin.

READ MORE: Howdy-Roo chili cook-off is May 1-3 in Marble Falls

“It’s been a long time since I hit the No. 1 spot,” Ross said. “And, I believe I’m the first woman to win Chilympiad because before you had to be 100 years old (as a woman) to compete in it.”

Chilympiad was one of the most anticipated cook-offs since the early 1970s, drawing hundreds of cooks and many more spectators to San Marcos each fall. The event folded in 2003 because of issues. In 2009, folks reinvigorated the cook-off but moved it to Cabela’s in Buda. The event — as well as the Texas Ladies State Championship — serves as a qualifier for the Terlingua International Chili Cook-off in the fall.

With the two wins, Ross has already earned a spot in Terlingua, a place with which she’s quite familiar. She even earned the moniker “Port-O-Potty Queen” after she helped get the first portable toilets set up at the Terlingua cook-off in 1989.

This love affair and adventure all started in 1983, when her daughter “was auctioned” off. But it was all for charity. Ross explained she ventured to that year’s Howdy-Roo more out of curiosity than anything else. But as she walked through Johnson Park, she saw her daughter on the auction block.

“I thought, ‘This looks like a lot of fun,’” Ross said.

Clyde and Mary Griffin got Ross cooking that year. A few years later in 1987, Ross married Herb, and he picked up the chili pot, though an avid golfer. After qualifying for Terlingua his first year of cooking, Herb decided it was enough for him, but in 2005, the chili bug bit him again, and he hit the circuit with Ruby.

The two never looked back.

Ruby earned three trophies in Terlingua over the years for eighth, ninth and fourth.

In 2009, with Herb’s health declining, the two stepped back from the chili circuit. But this year, Ruby decided to jump back into the bowl of red. However, Herb, at 91, just can’t make the circuit anymore.

“I was in a slump there for a while when I hit at Buda (Chiliympiad) — it felt like I might be on another roll,” Ross said. Then, the win at the Texas Ladies State Championship helped firm up that belief.

She laughed when she explained the secret to the two victories.

“I followed the recipe,” Ross said. “Before, I’d get recipe and I’d add a little of this or do something like that to it. But this time, I just followed the recipe and won.”

Ross plans on following the recipe right to Howdy-Roo on May 2 at Johnson Park in Marble Falls.

“Maybe I can make it three in a row,” she said.

Whatever happens at Howdy-Roo, she’s already qualified for Terlingua. Her goal is simple — either this year or upcoming ones — to be the oldest cook to win Terlingua.

Whatever happens, Ross looks back at the more than 30 years of cooking chili with joy for all it’s brought into her life.

“There’s something about the chili world that brings out the true you,” she said. “It’s introduced a entire world to me and brought so many great friends into my life. The chili gods have been good to Herb and I.”

Go to www.howdyroo.com to learn more about chili cook-offs and the 2015 Howdy-Roo.

daniel@thepicayune.com