It’s difficult to imagine that it’s been going strong for 31 years, but Saturday’s Annual Chili Cook-off and Charity Auction on St. George Island gave some indication as to why.
Despite the windy weather, and the cold morning, the event drew another robust crowd all day long, and a hefty fundraising total for the St. George Island Volunteer Fire Department.
Grayson Shepard, who oversees the cooking competition that has made the cook-off one of the Southeast’s premier qualifying events for the International Chili Society world championships, said unofficial word is the event raised in the vicinity of $90,000, short of the record, but an excellent effort by all accounts.
“It was down from previous years by a little bit, but with the cold weather and the wind, everybody did great,” he said.
He said about 3,000 people paid $5 each to enter the gate, up a little from last year, with another $60,000 in food and beverage sales the day of the event. Add in the auction results and sponsorships, and event organizers were all pleased at how well the cook-off went this year.
Shepard said this was the second year the organizers limited the chili booths to selling only chili, with each ticket buyer receiving five tickets that they could use to select their “people’s choice.” Blue Water Chili, with well over 200 tickets received, was the runaway way for the People’s Choice Award.
After a brisk morning 5K Red Pepper Run that featured 145 registered runners, up from 126 last year, the sun began to peek through the clouds and the temperature warmed while the wind stayed strong.
The zaniness got started with the selection of the Mr. Hot Sauce and Miss Chili Pepper, with the machismo of the a strong field of men tested through a variety of means, such as hula hoop competition, painting their fingernails, dancing and answering questions based on the film “Hall Pass.”
After he and Chuck Mintor, from the Hot Lips team, outlasted the competition, Jon Grauer, from the Blue Water team, took home the Mr. Hot Sauce honors, repeating his 2010 win. In 2011, his wife Marcy has been pregnant at the cook-off with their second daughter, Callen, who now joined older sister Kaitlyn at the cook-off.
The Miss Chili Pepper contest was chosen from a smaller, but equally enthusiastic field of young women, by an entrant from Destin’s Burnin’ at Both Ends team.
The amateur chili crockpot competition, once against overseen by volunteer Dayle Flint, drew a robust field, with Pam Addison, from St. George Island, taking home the top prize. Finishing in second place was Keith O’May, from Fort Gaines, Ga., with Steve Bashore, from Orlando, finishing third.
The 41 entrants in the “professional” competition labored at their concoctions, readying for a chance to have the volunteer judges decide who was tops.
The Yellow Creek Swamp Sauce team, from Bristol, have been competing since 2007 and made theirs out of venison, a flavorful chili. Assisting in the effort were Chad and Travis West, Marjorie Boone. Andrea, Addyson and Corey Clark.
Bob H. Alexander, from Whitefish, Montana, joined his son, Bob C. Alexander, from Niceville, in competing for the Roadkill Hovering Harrier Chili team. Dad has cooked in two dozen world championships, after winning in such places as British Columbia, Montana, five times in Oklahoma, and as the current Mississippi state champion.
“It’s about the meat, tri tip,” he said.
His son, who flew Harrier jets for 20 years in the Marine Corps, said the name came after he had won a chili cook-off in South Texas, and they asked what kind of meat he used.
“Roadkill” was his answer.
Dad said he has found that chilies are milder in Idaho and Montana, but in Mississippi, where his chili was hotter than he intended, he just “put more tomatoes in it and I won.”
After submitting their entries from among the four quarters each had to prepare, the competitors waited as the judges assessed their chilies for flavor, texture, consistency, blend of spices, aroma and color.
In the end, veteran competitor Paul Nunn, from Nunn Better Chili, out of Fort Pierce, took home the win, and $500, with Roadkill Hovering Harriers second, receiving $300. Wanda Gangswich, of Three Sheets to the Wind, of Panama City Beach, took third, and $200. Rounding out the winners were fourth place J. G. Carver’s Team Spice Boys, from Vestavia, Ala., and fifth place, Kim Poole’s Hot Lips Chili team, out of Tallahassee.
Nunn, who won the cook-off in 2008 and has been competing here regularly for the past two decades, cooked alongside son Tim Nunn and, for the first time, granddaughter Alyssa Jones.
“We’ve been coming her for 20 years,” said Nunn. “It’s got to be a family thing. We come up and spend a week.”
Nunn said he is looking forward to his third trip to the world championships, in Oct. 2013 in Palm Springs, Calif.
A retired building contractor, for wastewater treatment facilities, Nunn said the weather proved to be a challenge.
“Most of use basically the same recipe, but you adjust it a little bit here or there,” he said. “You put in a little more spice or I found from past experience that you wind up if you’re not careful you cook it too long, and if you cook it too long you boil a lot of the flavor out of it.
“I think today I cooked it a total of about an hour and 15 minutes and shut it off with 45 minutes left. Today was a good day to cool it,” said Nunn. “Today was especially hard because half the time the fire’d blow out and you had to restart it. When the wind’s blowing like this if you turn it up too high it boils, turn it down too low and it blows out.”
Nunn said he enhanced his tri tail beef “with a little bit of Jimmy Dean sausage” and found the right mix of chili powders, cumin, and Aunt Cora seasoning.
Winning for Best Booth was the Burnin’ at Both Ends team, with the Showmanship award won by Team Toilet Bowl Chili out of Valdosta, Ga., The “Just Because” award went to the FART (Firefighters Annual Recompense Team) out of Atlanta, which this year dressed as Oompa Loompas, after last year coming as Elvises.
The High Yield award went to the Hot Lips Team, which raised more than $800 dollars for the firefighters.
Highlighting the auction was the sale of $4,000 in premium tickets to the Talladega 500, supplied courtesy of a high-level Talladega Superspeedway exec with a home on the island.
Shepard said plans are to next year introduce salsa competition to further broaden the event.