The enticing aroma of freshly made chili laced with salty ocean air greeted visitors to the boardwalk this Saturday, Oct. 22. More than 50 teams competed for glory—and the accompanying prize money-- at the second annual Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Chili Cook-Off.
Both professional chefs and amateur cooks assembled bright and early to prepare their specialties, with contestants offering tastes to the public at 1 p.m. Attendees could purchase a tasting kit for $8, which allowed them to taste up to five different chilis and cast a vote for their favorite. A portion of the proceeds benefitted the Santa Cruz Teen Center.
The unseasonably warm weather drew large crowds to the boardwalk and most booths were cleaned out of chili well before the 4 p.m. judging time. The chili offerings were as uniquely Santa Cruzan as the venue itself, with many cooks featuring locally raised meat and local, organic vegetables.
Prizes were awarded for both vegetarian and meat chilis in categories like “Most Tasted,” “People’s Choice,” “Best Amateur” and “Best Professional.” Sacramento Chef Toussaint Potter took home the gold for “Best Professional Chili Con Carne.” The Penny Ice Creamery’s newest outpost, The Picnic Basket, nabbed the title for “Best Professional Vegetarian Chili,” with its corn and squash-laden offering.
Entrants were encouraged to deck out their booths and their bodies with inventive decorations and were awarded for their originality. Some teams took this as a call to arms, with pirates, monsters and pigs serving up cupfuls of the spicy stuff. Others chose to let their chili speak for itself, like amateur John Beck, whose only decoration was a white poster board sign inscribed with a simple message: “John’s Awesome Chili: No fancy sign, just chili.”
Winners in each category were awarded with cash prizes ranging up to $500. But as the dozens of cook-off contestants know, being crowned best chili out of 54 different varieties is reward enough, at least until next year.
Photo courtesy of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
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