Sept. 27, 2004 – As the sky changed from black to purple early Sunday morning at Bolongo Bay, the Texas Chili Cook-off was already under way. Backyard chefs from the Virgin Islands were getting their ingredients ready. Spices were tasted. Knives were sharpened and then run through the finest cuts of beef. The first sips of beer came right after the coffee. Most of the 33 chefs who competed had been there before. They knew they would be running on little sleep, bending over their Coleman stoves, stirring and tasting that pot of chili until it was simmering perfectly. To create chili worthy of a place in the top ten would mean a year's worth of bragging rights. To create the best chili in the Virgin Islands would mean a trip to the Terlingua International Chili Championship in Texas.
Ray Berg from Glassrays was cooking up breakfast for anyone who walked byscrambled eggs and steak sizzled from his corner of the beach. This year's Grand Pepper of the Virgin Pods, Georgeann McNicholas, was sneaking peaks at her pot of chili while taking care of logistics. "There are 100 Frisbees in the committee room for the kids," McNicholas told a volunteer. "The watermelons are in the sink in my room. Set the games up right here along the riverfront."
Booth Number 1 was organized and running smoothly by 10 a.m. Four cooks on the team from Betsy's Bar had a "Chili of Oz" theme. Erik Ackerson, whose chili took third place two years ago, was cooking up Betsy's Yellow Brick Road Kill chili. "Add seasonings, add spices, put the lid on and don't open it. Don't be a peeker," Ackerson said, a method that earned him fifth place this year. "We hand cut our own slices of meat," he said. "We found a recipe we're happy with that is 15 chili cook-offs old that gets better and better. It's been tweaked and perfected over the years." Ackerson will take over Grand Pepper duties for next year's cook-off.
Paul Drinkwine, a cook-off veteran who has placed so many times over the years he's lost count, was stirring his pot. His Tornado Chili came in sixth overall. "Let's just say we have a good time and the public likes it," he said. Kristie Sargent's specialty is Dorothy's Dead-Eye-Awesome Chili, a recipe that's been so good to her; she's not changing it.
Betsy's team was rounded out with Larry Donohue cooking the Chili of Oz. It was a secret family recipe that launched him into first place in the Virgin Islands two years ago. "Paul and I tweak Lawrence Drinkwine's chili. He's one of the originals." The secret? "Tender loving care."
This year's chili cook-off will be remembered for the swarms of mosquitoes all looking for a little red meat of their own to nibble on. "We feed the mosquitoes chili," Donohue said, "That takes care of them."
Nora Chapman swept first place this year, winning best chili and best in showmanship in the Grande Division with her Hillbilly Chili We Are Family. Also placing in the Grande Division for showmanship was second place winner Betsy's Chili of Oz, and third place winner Heidi's Honeymoon Chili.
In the Chico showmanship division, White Trash Chili took first place, Pomerosa Chili came in second, and Fathead's Hurricane Chili took third.
Kay Mallet's chili recipe took second place in the tasting competition. Nancy Pavuc came in third. Erik Ackerson came in fifth, and his partner Paul Drinkwine took sixth.
Overall, 33 contestants cooked up 500 pounds of chili to be consumed by the public. "There was wonderful music, wonderful weather and the crowd was incredible," But the best part was the chili didn't run out. "There was chili available until 6 p.m. this year." McNicholas said. The Chili Cook-off grossed more than $20,000 for charity. "That's a pretty good day's work."
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