Aug. 17, 2008 — Take 30 pounds of meat, some special spices blended into a secret sauce, cook for two days, haul it all down to Brewers Bay at dawn, light your fire and wait for the crowds to appear. Which they will.
That's roughly the routine that dozens of chili aficionados follow as they brandish their ladles and prepare for the estimated 6,000 that show up every year at the annual Texas Society of the Virgin Islands Chili Cook-Off. However, that's for the crowds. For the judges, contestants are required to do all the cooking the morning of the event at the beach. This year's feast, the 24th such cook-off, was held Sunday at Brewers Bay.
According to Lori Abbotts, the event's pepper popper (that's chili-speak for vice president), more than 53 entrants competed in the chili category, 13 in the vegetarian chili category, and there were a couple lobster chili cooks as well.
"That's not really one of our categories," she demurred.
The event earns about $20,000 all of which goes to support local charities, and it doles out an estimated $20,000 in prizes, courtesy of donations from the business community. The grand prize winner gets an all-expense-paid trip to Terlingua, Texas — roughly in the middle of nowhere in that state's western panhandle — in November to duke it out in the CASI contest, or the Chili Appreciation Society International contest.
For those with a knack for spice more sartorial than soupy, there are the small showmanship and the large showmanship contests. Teams of nine or more constitute "large," and each team has not only to dress strangely enough to impress the judges, but be linked to a chili maker.
If weird clothes and chili aren't your style, how about romance?
"We met at the chicken chili tent!" proclaimed Kristin Gilmore, a vivacious, bikini-clad blonde, as she bumped arms with a chili-gobbling, shirtless David Girard. What their future promises is unsure, but on chili, they don't see eye-to-eye.
"The best is the tequila chili, down there," said Girard.
"I disagree!" Gilmore interrupted. "I like the little white one," she insisted, pointing at the kiosk sponsored by Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, where Debbie and Dennis Murphy, and helper Doug Caswell were dishing up their recipe.
The Murphys have participated every year, and it showed. Three other random samplers, cornered independently for their opinions, all pointed to them as the best on the beach.
"I've been tasting the others, and to me, this is the best," said Denise Green, who was at her very first chili cook-off. "It has just the right kick."
Murphy and company did walk away with a prize, but not first place. The winners in each category were:
First: Ron Barnes (TX)
Second: Max Walker (TX)
Third: Tina Barnes (TX)
Fourth: Cody Brice* (STT)
* Brice, not Barnes, will be going to the CASI contest as the V.I. representative must be a local resident.
First: Donald Pomeranz (STT)
Second: Dennis "Texx" Murphy (STT)
Third: Ben Currence (STT)
First: Betsy's Bar (STT)
Second: Heidi's Honeymoon Grill (Water Island)
Third: U.S. Coast Guard
First: Heavenly Chili (STT)
Second: Saloonatics (STT)
Third: Victory Care, horse rescue group (STT)
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