“Beer is the ultimate palate cleanser, drink lots”. That sounds a lot like an excuse to consume. And it was! From those instructions would you automatically assume Chili Cook-Off? If you did then you could probably qualify as a judge!
When I started writing this post I figured I would give you the whole rundown in one shot. But, as it turns out this is going to have to be a multi part affair. So consider this piece the warm up to the main event.
Let’s rewind about a week. Saturday, April 10th was the date for the first Sarasota Chili Cook-Off. The event was held out at the Sarasota County Fairgrounds. A chili competition the likes of which Sarasota has not seen before. An actual International Chili Society (ICS) sanctioned event right here in Sarasota. The winner not only grabbing a pretty fair amount of cash, but, also an entry into the World Chili Cook-Off. That’s the Super Bowl, World Series and Stanley Cup of chili cooking all rolled into one pepper fueled event.
This day was about chili. The first step to the big dance for one skilled chili creator, and, I was a judge. Sounds like a great assignment for a foodie/writer/eater right? It was! What follows are some of the delicious details of the day.
I had judged a few other culinary competitions in the past, but, never one so specific. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. First order of business, a judges meeting at 11am the morning of the event. Our Head Judge, Sergei, an Annapolis graduate, retired Navy flier and chili connoisseur would walk us through the judging process. We were in good hands. Sergei knows his stuff!
There were three distinct parts to the event and they couldn’t be more different. There was the Best Booth & Showmanship category followed by the actual chili cooking competition which was sub divided into two parts, best Texas Red Chili and the People Choice.
Today, were going to talk about the less serious (not that theres a whole lot of seriousness about the entire day) part of the competition.
Let me give you an example of just how crazy this day would be. One of the first instructions from Sergei, when explaining the process for judging Best Booth & Showmanship was, “Bribes should not only be accepted, but, they are encouraged! The things that will be offered to you today are rightfully yours and you should happily accept them”. WOW! I was wondering if this chili cook off thing really had roots in Chicago or Louisiana, rather than Texas. Probably not.
The chili teams had their meeting at some point during the week prior to the event. They had obviously been briefed on this usually frowned upon tactic. Obviously, this part of the event had a whole different set of standards than what is normally acceptable. Should be interesting.
When we left our judges area to start our “scientific” evaluation of the booth displays, alcoholic concoctions of one form or another were appearing seemingly out of nowhere. Free beer, drinks of all kinds, t-shirts, you name it. These contestants had paid attention to the rules!
Some of the entrants had worn costumes that complimented their booth. Others went for the traditional chef look. Booths were adorned in a wide array of styles. One had a small menagerie of farm animals surrounding it. Another was displaying plaster casts of miscellaneous body parts alongside their chili cooking apparatus. Not really sure of the connection there, but, we did stop for a while to check that out. Who wouldnt, right?
After eating and drinking our way around the fairgrounds, it was time to head back to the judging area and turn in our ballots. All that was left was the counting.
In the end, the booth that emerged as the winner looked like it had the most effort put into it. At least as far as decoration goes. I will say that the winner did not rate very high on my personal bribery list. Maybe some of the other judges did better than me.
Heres a list of the winners from the Best Booth and Showmanship Competition.
1st: Rajun Cajun Buffalo Chili Shack
2nd: OSHA Violations/Willis A. Smith Construction, Inc.
3rd: CBGB/Dawn Hochberg/Cock ‘n Bull
Coming next: Its Chili Time!