Diane Lentz is the pleasant matriarch of a family of chili cooks.
At this stage in life, she has won lots of awards, and by February of this year she already had earned the necessary points with the International Chili Society to compete in all categories of this weekend's world championship in Charleston.
But make no mistake, fellow competitors. Lentz is cooking to win.
"I'm going to give it a good shot," she said.
Lentz, who lives near Lexington, Ky., was the first in her family to compete in chili cookoffs starting about 23 years ago. She soon was joined by her husband, Larry, and their daughters, Carrie Lentz Parker and Laurin Lentz Staley.
When the Lentz family competes, it competes well. All four have achieved the Grand Master status, meaning they have qualified for and cooked in at least 10 world championships.
Diane won the world title in 2010 for her salsa. She would like to rack up another award, and at Magic Island this weekend she has four chances, because she's qualified in all categories: salsa, chili verde, traditional red and the new homestyle chili category, which can include beans and other additions.
Lentz said chili cookoffs - her daughters now come with their families - are a family affair and a great social event.
Chili cooks, on the whole, love to chat about cooking and love feedback.
"It comes naturally for me; I think it comes naturally for all of us chili cooks. They're a great bunch of people," Lentz said.
Besides making batches of chili and salsa for the judges, cooks also turn out pots full for the tasting. Lentz estimates she'll make a good nine or 10 gallons of salsa and chili this weekend.
Earlier this week she made a trip to a grocery warehouse club to load up on supplies for her and her husband.
Lentz's traditional chili will have cubed beef - a standard in the International Chili Cookoff competitions.
Beyond that, cooks prefer many variations of flavors.
Lentz, who also is a judge and trains judges, said winning takes a bit of luck and an appealing blend of seasonings.
"One of the big things is the salt level," she said. "You can taste a bland chili and if you add some salt, it really helps the flavor.
"I like a well-blended chili. I do like cumin, but I don't really want it to pop out at me. You have to know the heat is there. I like back heat - the kind where I taste it after I swallow it and I know it's coming. I don't like front heat, where it starts to burn immediately. I like to have a little heat; not too much."
Of course, Lentz knows that heat is a subjective thing.
"Heat and hot are different to different people. I always set out a bottle of hot sauce. If the chili isn't hot enough, they can always add some."
Contact writer Monica Orosz at mon...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4830.
World Champion Chili Cookoff Schedule
The chili cookoff takes place Friday, Saturday and Sunday on Magic Island. Admission is $5 for adults and $2.50 for youth 12 to 18. Proceeds benefit HospiCare.