Chili Cook-Off sizzles

Russell Harvey of Casa Escobar took the Best Local Merchant prize in the 24th annual Chili Cook-Off Sunday. Stephen Dorman / TMT

Russell Harvey of Casa Escobar wins local category; Realtor Isabel Miller wins Porsche.

By Stephen Dorman/Special to The Malibu Times

Braving soaring temperatures, chili lovers and fairgoers flocked to the Malibu Kiwanis Club’s 24th annual Chili Cook-Off over the Labor Day weekend. The event, which originated in 1982, serves as the city’s single biggest fundraiser for local charities each year.

Although attendance was light on Saturday, Frank Miller, an organizer of the event, said that approximately 9,000 to 10,000 attended throughout the three-day weekend.

The chili maintained its position as the centerpiece of the event with more than 40 vendors promoting their products to the paying public. A panel of judges comprised of local leaders, celebrities and chili experts was formulated to determine who would walk away with this year’s top prize-a $1,500 check and trip to Las Vegas to participate in the International Chili Society’s world championships in October.

“I was at the very first contest when it started years ago,” said Malibuite and actor Gary Busey, who served as a chili-tasting judge and also announced the raffle winner of a brand new Porsche Boxter. “It’s like a family tradition in the city of Malibu; a local tradition in terms of the lovely competition, music, charities and the rides for children. Really, it’s a blessing to the community and I’m just glad to be here eating this much chili.”

Russell Harvey, co-owner of Casa Escobar, won the “Best Local Merchant” category.

This year’s first place winner of the prestigious “Red” category-chili comprised of meat and sauce with no beans-was Marilee Barrett from Lake Arrowhead. Barrett has been involved in competitive chili tournaments for 11 years and had previously won this competition in 2002.

“My husband, my son and I all cook chili competitively,” Barrett said. “All of us helped in developing the winning recipe and it just continues to evolve. Basically, it’s beef, red chili powders, onions, a little bit of tomato sauce and garlic-got to have a lot of garlic. It’s just a nice even blend of good chili.”

Other winners included Graff Sosebee of Oceanside and Dave Johnson from Vista, Calif. for “Best Decorated Booth” and “People’s Choice,” Mike Austin for “Best Showmanship” and “Chili Verde,” and Karen Angotti for the “Salsa” category.

“We cook all of our chili here on site using the best ingredients we can find,” Sosebee said. “It’s all for the public because without these people we couldn’t have chili cook-offs. They’re the ones who pay all this money to get in, money that ends up going to charity. So we just want to give them the best we possibly can.”

For those attendees who opted against chili, there was a potpourri of other food items to choose from provided by various charitable organizations, which received the full value of each food voucher from the Kiwanis Club.

Adding to the fun-filled atmosphere were carnival rides and fair games that kept both children and parents alike scrambling for stuffed animals, stomach-turning thrills and the nearest ATM machine.

In addition to the chili and fair earnings, the raffling off of the Porsche Boxter brings in a large sum of money for the Kiwanis Club. The organization purchased the vehicle for approximately $46,000, said Tom Domino, a member of the Kiwanis’ Board of Directors.

“Years ago dealers donated cars,” Domino said, “but that doesn’t happen anymore.”

Local Realtor Isabel Miller was the lucky winner of the Porsche. The Pritchett Rapf Realtor said she thought a friend was playing a joke on her when the Kiwanis called to tell her the good news. “I couldn’t believe it when they phoned me,” Miller said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “It feels fabulous.”

“I bought a ticket every year,” she added. “It’s such a good cause.”

Raffle tickets for the Porsche were included in a three-day pass that could be purchased for $100 prior to the event. With an estimated 1,200 tickets being sold this year, the Kiwanis Club would stand to net more than $70,000 from the raffle of the car after the vehicle’s purchasing cost is factored in, although those figures were not immediately confirmed prior to deadline. That money is also funneled directly into its list of charities.

“We’re in the profit already,” Domino said a few hours before the raffle took place.

A $1,000 prize and $2,000 prize were also raffled.

All proceeds from this year’s ticket sales will be donated to more than 100 nonprofit organizations in the Malibu area including Friends of Malibu Youth, Malibu Kids Company, Underprivileged Kid’s Christmas Project, and local athletic, sheriff and fire departments.