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Chili Cook-Off Blends Love, Spices and Whatever's in the Fridge

March 22, 2009 — The secret, apparently, is love.
At least it was for several of the cooks at the eighth annual United Way Chili Cook-Off Sunday at the Divi Carina Beach Resort. Hundreds of hungry chili lovers roamed from booth to booth in the warm sunshine, the air redolent of spice and filled with music, the waves lapping at the shoreline just a few yards away.
Cooks came from as close as St. Croix and as far away as Brainerd, Minn., converging on the beach to whip up their tastiest, spiciest and zippiest concoctions.
Asked for their secret ingredients, four of the cooks replied, "Love." They wouldn't expound on that, though they were asked repeatedly for an explanation. They just repeated that one word — "love."
On the less arcane, more culinary side, several bragged abut chilis from Mexico or Peru or Colorado, or a special blend of spices. One quietly admitted to a modest addition of brown sugar. At one booth the chefs claimed they had a licensed massage therapist massage the spices into the meat before it was cooked.
Joanne White at Red Litnin' Chili — a takeoff on a backwoods moonshine operation — said her concoction as made of "a little of this and a little of that, whatever keeps me out of the pokey." Tom Fitzgerald of the Survey Services Co. booth said his secret was "Irish and Indian" ingredients.
Tim Collins of Restaurant Bacchus in Christiansted served up a mix made with smoked duck, topped with smoked gouda. Susan Anderson, whose chili won the top honors at the event two years ago, said the key is "fresh ingredients — local peppers and produce." She continued, "We cleaned out the V.I. Farmer's Co-Op."
Verdel Petersen's recipe called for seven different beans — one for each continent, she said.
And then there was Cat — no last name given — from Tyler, Texas, who explained that the recipe was to "take whatever's in the refrigerator and throw it in the pot with some chili."
That casual attitude aside, Cat was proud of his recipe for Chuckwagon Chili, which he said was authentic back to 1848.
Each year the cook-off is a major fundraiser for the United Way, with all proceeds going to member agencies of the United Way of St. Croix.
And while the event and the effort of the many cooks and volunteers were for a good cause, it didn't stop people from having a good time.
"This is what we like to do, have fun and cook chili," Anderson said.
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