Saturday’s 38th annual chili cook off on St. George Island couldn’t have gone any better.
The sun was shining, the crowd was robust, the funds raised for the island’s volunteer fire department were substantial and the energy and excitement were electric.
It was a near perfect day, especially for the island’s Cathie Korfanty, a dedicated cook who revels in competing in local events.
This year, her two Over the Limit teams entered their creations, and by the end of the day, she had finished one and two, taking home the top two prizes in the field of three dozen teams.
It was a rare occurrence, highly unusual, and Korfanty couldn’t have been prouder.
The former owner of the Eastwood Café in Tallahassee, which specialized in homecooked foods in 2013, and the current owner of Apalachicola Bay Realty, Korfanty won with a bowl of chili made with "straight up chuck" bought at the Piggly Express.
"I did throw ancho chili pepper skins, deseeded and destemmed, into the sauce during cooking that had been boiled in Hooter Brown," she said.
Her other entry used a blend of ground sirloin, ground chuck and pork, which she got at the Fresh Market. "I also boiled ancho dried, and arbol chili peppers, in Hooter Brown Oyster City beer and scraped the pulp into the sauce," she said.
"There was some variation on the different seasons on both," Korfanty said. "We chop everything on site and follow every rule."
When the time came for cook off competition director Grayson Shepard to announce and hand out the enormous, colorful checks, he had the honor of mentioning Korfanty’s name twice.
She, like all the winners, donated the prizes back to the department, meaning she pitched in $800, and the third place $200.
But, as it turned out, after conversations with representatives of the International Chili Society (ICS), which governs the event, Shepard decided to credit Korfanty only with her first place win. This is not because she didn’t have two separate entries, but was due to the fact that while last year she had two distinct ICS numbers, this year she didn’t, because that second number was inactive.
"I will have them next year bring their trophies back," said Shepard.
Korfanty was unfazed by the ICS decision, and proud she can add this title to her third place finish last year at the cook-off, her runner-up finish at January’s oyster cook-off in Apalachicola, and her victory in Capt. Clint fish dip cook-off in 2017.
"I love good food, what can I tell you?" she said. "Cooking is my passion and real estate is my other passion and my profession.
"I am excited about the opportunity to represent Franklin County with my chili," Korfanty said, pledging to take part in the upcoming ICS world championship, with the date and place not yet announced.
"When you do stuff you love, good stuff happens," she said.
The change means that Spice Boys, led by J. G. Carver will now fill the second place spot, with third place going to Tommy Darsey with Grill Deal; fourth place to Big Shots, Bobby Grubbs’ team out of Macon, Georgia; and fifth place to John Solomon, on behalf of the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce.
Finishing in the top five delighted Solomon, as did his victory in the unsanctioned salsa completion, which had 14 entries and a cash prize, that Solomon also donated back to the firefighters. Finishing second was Clint Taylor, and in third place Lisa Speakman with Sinful Salsa.
When it came down to Showmanship, the combo team of the Tallahassee and Forgotten Coast Parrot Head Clubs ran away with that honor for the second year in a row. They were also most proud of taking High Yield honors also for the second straight year, this time contributing $2,000 to the fire department.
Best Booth went to the Cousin Leon and Smokin’ Suzie’s Groovy Chili team out of Ten Mile, Tennessee, captained by Rusty Davis. That team was also the winner of the People’s Choice award.
A Just Because award went to Dwight Jackson of Jackson Creations, at his first time coming to the cook-off."
Earlier in the afternoon, Betsy Allen, from La Grange, Georgia won the Miss Chili Pepper contest, which was emceed by local favorite and budding comedian Chip Sanders, who gave such a smooth and comic performance that Shepard promised he would return.
Allen, who along with her husband Chris is with the Triple Threat team, is the mother of 19-year-old Breanna and 17-year-old Cameron, and a grandbaby Peanut, said she loves kicking back and having fun, which she amply demonstrated by taking part in the barefoot banana peeling portion of the contest.
That aspect of Miss Chili Pepper was won by Morgan Jones, a University of Georgia junior majoring in animal science, who finished as runner-up and who was taking part in the fun for the first time.
"I guess what that lady did was more appealing to the other people," she said. "It was fun; nobody crossed the line."
The third place finisher, Bianca Nawrocki, a staff attorney to Superior Court Judge Philip Raymond III in Macon, Georgia, declined to take part in the barefoot banana segment.
"I went to law school," she said afterwards, "As an educated woman, I don’t have to touch a phallic symbol with my feet while people are filming it."
Not all the chilies were the same, by no means, with Dwight Jackson, with Jackson Creations out of Chattahoochee, offering a completely vegetarian one, while Edson Kline, with Fast Eddie’s Chili, served up one without tomatoes.
"It’s an original cowboy chili," he said, bragging about the beef, chorizo sausage and bacon, all simmered together in a roux reminiscent of the beef suet and kidney fat that cowboys used to cook.
Kline then blended the meats into pepper stock, boiled, blended and sieved. "What comes out of there is fine pepper sauce," he said.
In addition to a smattering of local candidates working the crowd, on hand was Jessica Yeary, a veteran of the 2nd Circuit Public Defenders Office, who is running to unseat Andy Thomas in the Democratic primary, which could well be open if no Republicans join the fray.
"It was a great, great turnout," said Shepard. "The actual competitors in their chili booths sold 12,000 cups at $1 each, double last year."
He estimated the net proceeds of the day were in excess of $70,000, with the overall event taking in more than $100,000.
Just outside the auction tent, the crowd enjoyed performances by The John Sutton Band, newly relocated to Nashville, and Ten Pound Pancake out of Carrabelle.
Shepard noted that some items were not bid on at the auction, and they will be donated to the upcoming Eastpoint rib cook-off.