Chili Cookoff Therapy

chili cookoff therapy bowls of competitors

Yes, chili cookoff therapy is a real thing. Our Brinlee Creek Ranch recently hosted its second annual Chili Cook-off. It’s not only a fun event, it provides patients in rehabilitation great practice in real life skills that are essential to returning home and also work the brain and body. The cook-off engages patients in a number of ways.

Building Real World Skills

With or without a brain injury, everyone has to perform activities of daily living (called ADLs). These are the basics of life, from laundry to bathing. Cookoff participants practiced several key skills around food.

  • Grocery shopping for ingredients
  • Prep, cooking and following a recipe
  • Setting the table and serving meals


Therapeutic Chili Cook Off from Pate Rehabilitation on Vimeo.

Cognitive Therapy

People with brain injuries may have cognitive deficits that are helped with activities that involve paying attention to many different elements. When you think about it, judging a chili contest gives your brain a lot to think about.

  • Assessing and evaluating different chilis
  • Making comparisons between chilis
  • Remembering different chilis
  • Isolating individual flavors, noting differences


chili cookoff therapy competition entries ready to eat

Occupational Therapy

Patients had rating sheets that asked them to rate the competing chilis on aroma, color, consistency, taste and aftertaste. Using the rating sheets worked on:

  • Fine motor coordination (handling pens)
  • Writing skills by filling out the forms (and reading comprehension too)


Speech Therapy

Patients discussed the chili among themselves and worked with other people while they prepared for the event, and it all requires communication skills. Practicing speech is effortless when it happens in a natural context with your friends.



Chili cookoff therapy helps people work on everyday skills like making small talk. The group dining setting gives people a chance to connect with other patients and therapists on a human level. Having the chili to talk about can reduce anxiety about making conversation.

Best part aside from eating the chili? Awards! It’s not a cookoff without recognizing the best contenders. Everybody rated each chili version then one of our staffers acted as master of ceremonies and handed out awards. Of course they honored chili winners but we added a few extra awards like “Most Time Spent on a Treadmill.”

It was a great day! Thanks to all who participated.


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