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Each January, chili chefs bring their best offerings to the shores of Puerto Peñasco where for two days chili showdowns take over the beach in front of Playa de Oro RV Park. Once famously held next to Manny’s in the Mirador, where more than 150 cooks would often sign-up, in more recent years the Chili Cook-offs have made their way to Playa de Oro where they set up shop Friday and Saturday over MLK weekend. (Save the date – Jan. 15th – 16th, 2016!!) Under the emblem of “chili, charity, and fun”, both chili events give back to the community with donations from Friday going to the Santa Claus Club, and for a third year in a row donations from Saturday were gathered for La Montaña school for children with special needs.
Chili cook-offs are serious business! After last weekend’s event we were glad to get a bit more chili insight from Ted Fichtl, Executive Director of the Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI), and his wife Sunny. In the spirit of the season, Fichtl broke down the pods and chili chatter into true Super Bowl terminology.
“As an analogy, CASI is the NFL level of the organization. The next level is organized into what we call ‘Pods’. Pods are the equivalent of the teams in the NFL. We have 64 pods around the world and over 1200 member chili cooks,” he explains.
“Two such pods, CHOPPS of Puerto Peñasco (Chili Heads of Puerto Peñasco) and High Desert Pod of Sierra Vista promote and run the two cook-offs in Puerto Peñasco annually over MLK weekend. The Friday Cook-off, run by CHOPPS, is sanctioned as a local cook-off, meaning the Puerto Peñasco Pod conducts it largely for local Arizona cooks. The Saturday Cook-off is conducted by High Desert Pod of Sierra Vista, AZ and is sanctioned as an international cook-off by CASI. As such, it is the largest and more unique of the two.”
Winners on both days are awarded points. In the end, that’s all the chili cooks get – trophies and points. Accumulate 12 points in a year and you qualify for the largest chili competition in the world at Terlingua, Texas in November every year [Think of it as the Super Bowl or World Cup of chili cook-offs!]. The first place winner of the Friday cook-off in Puerto Peñasco automatically qualifies for the championship, and the top three on the Saturday cook-off qualify for Terlingua as well.
Despite a hiatus in 2010, when the High Desert Pod’s annual MLK cookoff was held in the US, Fichtl explains this was the 23rd anniversary of the event in Puerto Peñasco , which they’ve been trying to breathe life back into since 2011. This year’s January cook-offs drew 18 cooks for the Friday event, and 28 on Sunday. Ted notes the High Desert Pod has gotten exceptional help from José and Cynthia Flores of BooBar, who have provided trophies in the past as well as helped with event t-shirts. They’ve also gotten great support from Playa de Oro RV Park and the wonderful folks from La Montaña school. It’s also worth noting all trophies are purchased locally, with 16 Iron Wood Chili Peppers serving as trophies this year.
Three years ago, the High Desert Pod selected La Montaña School as the charity for funds raised during the Saturday event.
Ted explains, “The money that is raised for the school is from a couple of sources: First, cooks pay a registration fee, in this case $15 US and $25 US respectively. $10 and $20 of the fees goes to the charity. Secondly, we invited folks to come to the cook-off site and taste chili. Tasters buy a cup for $4.00 and they get to taste all the chilis. Finally we conduct raffles, in this case offering local products. That money goes to the schools as well.”
In addition to trophies for dang good chili, the cooks are also encouraged to perform while cooking – all in an effort to take home the “Show” trophy. Ted adds, “Show brings color and entertainment to the cook-offs.”
The winners of the Saturday, Jan. 17th, Cook-off were:
1st Chili – Tom Edwards, Sierra Vista, AZ
2nd – Eddie Love, Goodyear AZ
3rd – Gail Edwards – Sierra Vista, AZ
4th Sunny Fichtl – Sierra Vista, AZ
5th Denise Cabello – Tucson, AZ
6th Tom Klug -Dold Canyon, AZ
7th Donna Barr- Tucson, AZ (First Time Cook)
8th Myrl Coultas – Tucson, AZ
9th Genee Joliffe -Tucson, AZ
10th Dave Boone – Odessa, TX
1st Show – Cottonwood Chili Chix, Cottonwood, AZ
2d Show – That’s Rall Chino Valley, AZ
3d Show – Hogeye Chili Goodyear, AZ
More information: www.chili.org