Home Arts-Entertainment Things to do IT'S TEXAS CHILI COOK-OFF TIME, NO BEANS ABOUT IT



Sept. 5, 2001 – Things are heating up once again for the Texas Society of the Virgin Islands' annual Chili Cook-Off. This one — No. 17 — is set for Sept. 23 at Sapphire Beach.
"It's a great day of fun, whether you sign up to cook or come out to sample all the different types of chili," organizer Georgeann "Pepper" Peters says.
The event began inauspiciously in 1984 when Texas native Diane Runyan invited five friends and their families to cook up their best pots of chili in the backyard of her Contant home. The informal gathering was such a red-hot success that it grew the next year into the first Virgin Islands Chili Cook-Off, held at the old For The Birds restaurant on Scott Beach.
In 1994, the "Virgin Pod" joined 62 other "pods," or member groups, on the U.S. mainland and in Canada that make up the Chili Appreciation Society International.
Cooking up the best pot of chili is the main immediate objective of participants in the family-oriented fun day on St. Thomas, but the event goes beyond that, according to Peters, who holds the title of Great Pepper of the Virgin Pod and represents the territory at the international society's annual meeting. "The whole purpose behind the chili competition is to have fun and to raise money for charity," she says.
There's a serious side to the cook-off, though — rules and regulations. There can be no beans in cook-off chili, for example. "Competition or regulation chili is simply meat and seasonings, no fillers," Peters explains. It's the mix of spices, herbs and other flavorings added to the meat during cooking that's going to persuade the panel of judges. The winning cook gets a trip for two to the annual World Champion Chili Cook-off in Terlingua, Tex., in November.
Last year, Louis Hull beat out 37 other cooks in the V.I. competition.
Calling all chili cooks
Anyone can compete to produce the best Virgin Islands "pot o' red." (Off-islanders who cook their way around the chili circuit trying to accumulate "points" have been known to show up and take part.) The $25 entry fee gets you a 10-foot-square booth spot on Sapphire Beach. At the meeting for head cooks the evening before the event, participants draw numbers for booth spaces and go over the rules and regulations with fellow "Chiliheads."
At 6 a.m. the next morning — after ingredients have passed inspection — comes the order: Fire up your chili pots. "Cooks can cut up their meat ahead of time, but beyond this, everything has to be prepared from scratch at the beach," Peters says. In the official rules, "scratch" is defined as starting with raw meat. No marinating is allowed. At noon, each head cook is to turn in a coded regulation cupful of the results to the judges.
During preparation, commercial chili powder is permissible, but all-in-one or pre-measured chili mixes — the kind that advertise "just add meat" on the box — are not. Not to give away any secrets, but the winning recipe at Terlingua last year boasted nearly 20 ingredients in addition to the meat, including two brands of commercial chili powder, cayenne pepper, tomato sauce, chicken broth, beef broth, onion powder, garlic powder, brown sugar, cumin and sazon.
Cooks must provide their own stove and fuel, typically propane or white gas, as no charcoal is permitted, Peters says. Other suggested essentials include a cooking vat, cutting board, knife, water, cooler for the meat, paper towels, can opener, spoons and recipe ingredients, plus with table, chairs and sun-umbrella or tent. Those planning to compete for the annual showmanship award as well will need their decorations and props.
The panel of tasting experts samples each cup of chili, and each judge assigns it numerical ratings in five criteria — aroma, consistency, red color, taste and aftertaste. At the end, the numbers are totaled, and around 4:30 p.m. the winners are announced.
Meanwhile, the showmanship competition begins at 12:30 p.m. "Think up a theme, grab a few props and costumes, work up a number or skit and join in the fun," Peters invites. A different set of judges will rate the showmanship competitors in the areas of theme, costume, booth set up, action and audience appeal.
Eat, drink, play games and enjoy the music
While a few dozen folks do the cooking, thousands turn out to taste their wares, which go on sale in sample-size cups for 25 cents a taste starting at noon. After submitting their official chili for judging, competitors are free to toss in fillers — such as beans, rice and hominy. For the eating public, if not the judges, there's usually even vegetarian chili. Cold drinks are also available.
The afternoon will also feature games and live music. "We'll have flipper races, watermelon spitting seed contests, volleyball and tug-of-war," Peters says. There'll be something heavy, too: This year's Chili Cook-Off is also the venue for the Coors Light Extreme Silver Summer Sumo Wresting finals.
In addition to providing an enjoyable afternoon, "the whole point of the cook-off is to give back to the island we've adopted as our home," Peters says. The event benefits the Queen Louise Home for the Aged, the St. Thomas/St. John chapter of the American Red Cross, Family Support Network, St. Thomas Rescue, V.I. Institute of Performing Arts, St. Thomas Swimming Association, Kidscope and Dial-A-Ride.
To get an application form and the rules and regs, or to obtain more information, call Peters at 775-8011.


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