In a Virginia-Maryland chili battle, Mississippi took home the gold.  

Mercedes Smith, DVM Class of 2024, earned the esteemed chili champion title at this year’s College of Veterinary Medicine CVC (Commonwealth of Virginia Campaign) Chili Cook-Off. Her “Mississippi Hillbilly Chili” is the result of multiple different recipes (with lots of taste-testing) she picked up from back home in Madison, Mississippi, coming together in one delightful dish.

While the Southern state isn’t necessarily known for its chili, Smith explained it is a common dish during football season. “During those cold days like the Egg Bowl where Ole Miss plays Mississippi State, we do chili and nachos and it's just like a nice way for everybody to come together,” she said. “I guess because Mississippi is known for its Southern comfort, they make chili a part of it.”

Seven different chilis vied for the title of champion during the December 1 event. From white chicken chili to venison chili to vegetarian. each cook offered a unique take on the traditional American cold-weather staple. Students, faculty, and staff also cooked up multiple cornbreads and desserts for judging. Smith’s creations took a clean sweep in all categories.

“I think there's just the concept of beauty and creativity that comes with food,” Smith said. “There's a beauty and a heart to it, and it's something to do outside of school where you're just concentrating on medicine. It's a different way of thinking.”

Beauty can also be found in the spirit of the event – giving. Proceeds from the cookoff, now in its eighth year, are donated to charity as part of the Commonwealth of Virginia Campaign, an organization created to encourage giving from Virginia state employees. 

The chili cook-off added $200 to the $1,677 total raised by the college for the campaign. Other events included the Cabo Fish Taco and Space Rabbit Coffee food truck visits and the Floyd County Humane Society craft sale.

Space Rabbit Coffee at the VMIA building at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.
Cabo Fish Taco food truck at VMCVM.

The steering committee thought it was important for the college to give back to the local community and chose to direct funds to organizations in the New River Valley.  Mountain View Humane, Floyd County Humane Society, Montgomery County Humane Society, Friends of Animal Care and Control, the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad, the Blacksburg Rescue Squad, and Micha’s Backpack all received donations.

Pete Jobst, director of college facilities and first-year chair of the CVC steering committee, said it was fantastic to see people gathering and building community. “That’s what these events are really about getting people together–encouraging impromptu collisions,” Jobst said.

Smith is enthusiastic about her new title and bragging rights. “It feels great,” she said. “It feels like an honor. You know, I wanted to showcase what the South brings, and I think I did that with this. And I'm just really happy.”

Want to try your hand at cooking up the Mississippi Hillbilly Chili? Smith happily shared her recipe below:   


  • 2 lbs of ground beef
  • 1 green pepper (chopped)
  • 1-2 jalapenos (chopped)
  • 2 & 1/2 stalks of celery (chopped)
  • 1 can of Rotel (drained) 
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can of diced tomatoes (drained)
  • 1 (6 oz) can of tomato paste
  • 1 can of kidney beans (drained) 
  • 1 can of black beans (drained)
  • 1 can of pinto beans (drained)
  • 1 can of corn (drained)
  • 1 onion (chopped)
  • 2 cloves of garlic (minced)
  • 1 quart of chicken broth
  • 1 ranch packet
  • 2 tbsp of chili powder
  • 1 tsp of oregano
  • 2 tsp of cumin
  • 2 tbsp of Lawry's seasoning salt
  • 2 tsp of pepper


  • Place the cooked meat and sauteed veggies in the crockpot, and continue adding the ingredients to the crockpot as if it were in a large soup pot. Use this instructional video as a guide. 

Written by Margie Christianson, communications manager with the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine


Andrew Mann
Director of Communications and Marketing