A record number of cooks and people attended the Texas Society of the Virgin Islands 28th Annual Chili Cook-Off Sunday afternoon at Brewers Bay beach.
Almost 6,000 people came down to watch 78 chefs at what Lori “Pepper Popper” Abbotts, vice president of the organizing committee, called the weekend’s largest gathering in the Caribbean.
President of the cook-off committee, Erik “Great Pepper” Ackerson, attributed the enormous crowd to the beautiful weather. Last year Hurricane Irene forced the cook-off to end early, so this year he promised cooks and attendees good weather and great chili.
The chefs – 66 cooking chili with meat and a dozen cooking vegetarian chili – paid $35 to enter the contest. Each received ten pounds of meat or other supplies from Merchant's Market and went to work cooking chili from the wee hours of the morning into the late afternoon.
Although the event brings out tourists, Ackerson and Abbotts said the cook-off is known as an after-season party for locals at which people from the community come out to support one another.
“This time of year, everyone wants to party,” said Abbotts. “Season is over and we can relax and eat chili.”
This year, the committee added a locals-only competition to the mix. The highest local winner will go on to compete nationally.
Trophies and Chili Appreciation Society International points were awarded to the top 10 chefs in the CASI competition. For the local competition, the top 10 beef chili cooks, top three vegetarian chili cooks, and top three large and small showmanship teams were awarded a trophy and prizes totaling $15,000, donated by local businesses.
Judges assess chili based on such categories as aroma, consistency, taste and after-taste. Abbotts said the judging is done through double-blind testing, so judges do not know who made which batch of chili.
This is the eighth year vegetarian chili has been available at the competition. Abbotts said there are a lot of vegetarians in the territory and the committee wanted to cater to the entire community in hopes that more people will come out and support the cook-off and charities.
Abbotts said the cook-off began in Texas in someone’s backyard and has blown up into an international event. Cooks from such places as Mexico, Tennessee, Florida and Maryland flew to the territory just to participate.
This year’s cook-off was dedicated to former tally master Francee Carter, who passed away in July. Abbotts noted that Carter was always enthusiastic about the event and a huge supporter.
All funds raised at the cook-off go to local charities, including Dial-A-Ride, the Family Resource Center, Queen Louise Home for the Aged, the St. Thomas Power Squadron and the V.I. Institute of Performing Arts.
Abbotts said the cook-off cannot function without its sponsors. This year’s sponsors include: Coors Light, Merchant’s Market, Island Beachcomber, Captain Morgan, American Airlines, Domino’s Pizza and Crowley.
Regular (Meat) Chili CASI: First Place, Frances Sullivan (TX); second, Ben Chapman (VI); third, Lisa Brown (TX); fourth Place: James M. Sherfield (NM); fifth, Dana Plocheck (TX); sixth, Warren Murphy (VI); seventh, Jerry Lambert (TX); eighth, Jenny Winsor (MD); ninth, Rob Carlin (VI); tenth, David “Budda” Manske (TX).
VI Chili: First Place, Ed Sternberg; second, Georgeann McNicholas; third, Warren Murphy; fourth, Lori Abbotts; fifth, Rob Carlin; sixth, Donald Pomerantz; seventh, Erik Ackerson; eighth, Doug Stewart; ninth, Julia Gardner; tenth, Rick Temporton.
Vegetarian Chili: First Place, Mark Livingston; second, Pauline Lee; third, Rita DeFerray.
Showmanship Large (More than Ten People): First Place: Betsy’s; second, Hooters; third, U.S. Coast Guard.
Showmanship Small (Less than Ten People): First Place: Warren Murphy – Red Solo Cup; second, Kat Braton – Sand Castle; third, Val Burney – Looney Bien.