The crowd was robust, the competition was leaner, and last Saturday’s chili cook-off on St. George Island once again made a bowl full of money for the volunteer fire department.
Organizers are still tallying all the receipts, but it looks to be another great yield for the 35th annual affair, a regional cook-off whose winner now has a berth in the International Chili Society’s (ICS) world championship in October.
Grayson Shepard, vice president of the board of directors, said gross receipts for the day exceeded $73,000, and that’s not including corporate sponsorships and other support that could boost the gross by another $50,000.
“We did better than last year, about $10,000 better than last year,” he said.
Interestingly, the boost in total gross was not based entirely on numbers that passed through the gate, since Shepard said preliminary figures show that 2,600 people paid to enter Saturday, down about 900 from last year.
But those who came in managed to boost totals for food and beverage sales beyond previous years. “The people who came, they were thirsty and they wanted chili,” said Shepard.
He said the cook-off brought in about $9,140 from the sale of cups of chili, about $2,000 to $3,000 ahead of last year. Leading the pack was the Tallahassee Parrothead Club, which alone raised more than $1,500. Another team, Just Because, found they hadn’t brought enough of their Backwoods Chili to offer chili cups, so they decided to sell their competition chili, and devoted all their efforts to that.
“The people who came, they brought a lot of chili,” Shepard said. “There were long lines at the beer tent, and t-shirts did very well.”
The amateur crock-pot chili contest, not governed by ICS rules, drew only 16 entries, a relatively sparse field in the many years since Dayle Flint has overseen the competition.
“One gentleman fell at his house with two crockpots,” she said. “I want to know who put Crisco on his downstairs.”
Anne Avery, from Apalachicola, took home the top amateur prize, with Bert Hicks, from the St. George Island Volunteer Fire Department taking second, and Rusty Davis, from Ten-Mile, Tennessee, finishing third.
Avery said she blended beef with pork sausage, and added lots of jalapeno peppers and cumin, and cooked it overnight, before adding kidney and black beans, so “they didn’t get mushy.”
In the professional competition, only 30 teams took part, smaller than is typical.
“Several of the chili cooks didn’t show,” said Shepard. “We had six teams that didn’t show up that had sent in their forms and stuff, and we had spots reserved.”
The Spice Boys, a trio of friends from Alabama who have been coming down for a dozen years for the cook-off, were the big winners, although the results were different than last year, when J.G. Carver’s entry took the top prize.
This time it was Greg Machamer’s turn, as he took home the $500 top prize and a berth in the world competition. His teammate, Scott Abercrombie, took second, and $300, after finishing third last year.
“I make my chili slightly differently,” said Machamer. “I put less spice in mine.”
Otherwise, their recipes are the much the same, a blend of tri-tip beef, with pork sausage, plus half chicken, half beef broth and spices and tomato sauce.
The Spice Boys took second in the salsa competition, which was won by the Firefighters Forever team out of Tallahassee, led by Neal Trafford, which also finished fifth among the professional chilies. The Connecticut team of Uncle Bug’s, led by Gary Carlson took home third for salsa.
Finishing third in the chili competition, and winning $200, was the Nunn Better Also team led by Alyssa Jones Nunn, out of Fort Pierce. The Mad Cow Chili team, from Tallahassee, led by Dana Kelly, finished fourth.
The Best Booth award went to Team Toilet Bowl, Gary Dorris’ huge team out of Valdosta, Georgia. The Tallahassee Parrotheads were cited for Best Showmanship.
Miami’s Sofia Padilla, a petite, ravishing brunette from Florida State, a senior studying English and psychology, was named Miss Chili Pepper. It was her first time on St. George Island, and she “proposed,” symbolically of course with a giant plastic ring, to local resident Kit Mashburn, who had rounded up many of the competitors from among the cuties in the booths.
“I have a lot of experience with women,” he said.
Another particular bright spot for the cook-off was the performance by the Krickets, a swamp folk girl band out of Port St. Joe. The band drew a big following, who gathered in chairs for the concert, and chili cookoff organizers were particularly delighted the band agreed to perform, as they are on the verge of a breakthrough into a higher echelon of venues.