37th Annual Malibu Chili Cook-Off Is a Smash

A young rider takes a spin at the 37th annual Malibu Chili Cook-Off and Country Fair, held Friday, Aug. 31 - Monday, Sept. 3.

If there was any doubt the Boys & Girls Club of Malibu (BGCM) could pull off the town’s biggest-ticket annual event—the Malibu Chili Cook-Off—those uncertainties were laid to rest this weekend.

A good time was had by all of those attending this year’s 37th Annual Malibu Chili Cook-Off and Country Fair, a four-day long event that was presented for the first time by the BGCM. The nonprofit group brought in professional event planners to make sure everything ran smoothly, and even rebranded the event by calling it an “old country fair” instead of a “carnival.” 

“I fell in love with the Boys & Girls Club programs, and how they’re supporting all five schools in Malibu—especially their Wellness Program,” Molly Scott, the lead event organizer, said. She added that the event organizers’ ultimate goal was to make the fair even more kid-friendly, with hands-on things they could do, like jewelry-making and skateboarding. The fair had nearly 70 local volunteers working each day.

BGCM updated the fair experience this year by adding new things like the Zuma Zone for kids with a petting zoo, crafts and mini skatepark; a flash mob; a celebrity master of ceremonies on Friday night; a new layout with a more spacious beer and wine garden; healthy food options; online ticketing; and on-site composting.

The Kiwanis Club organized the first 36 years of the Malibu Chili Cook-Off fundraiser. Then, in a controversial, surprise move last May, the lease for the carnival site was instead granted to the Boys & Girls Club of Malibu. David Reznick, president of the Malibu Bay Co., which owned the property at the time, declined to comment on why the group dropped the Kiwanis Club. The property has since been purchased by the City of Malibu. 

The fair kicked off on Friday night, also known as Locals’ Night, with lines down the block to get in and more lines to get inside the beer and wine area. Local wines included Rosenthal Estate Winery and Strange Family Wines, and musical acts performed in the Barefoot Dreams Lounge on Saturday and Sunday evenings. 

Two of the bartenders, Charlie Imbilli and Alex Salas, both said they got complaints Friday night because they had to stop serving alcohol at 8 p.m., even though the fair didn’t close until 10 p.m. They said the fair came up with that policy to make sure people weren’t driving home drunk. Imbilli said when some fairgoers realized how early they would stop serving alcohol, “they bought several drinks at last call and then just hung out.”

Friday evening’s entertainment lineup on the main stage was hosted by singer, songwriter and record producer Robin Thicke, who introduced performances by a community flash mob as well as musical guests Scott Russo of Unwritten Law, Cody Dickinson and Cisco Adler. In addition, a total of 13 other performers and/or groups performed on the main stage on Saturday and Sunday nights.

Maggie Luckerath, who has managed the chili cook-off judging for the past several years, stepped back into her role for the 2018 event.

“It’s been an honor as a volunteer to work for the professional event organizers this year, and with the Boys & Girls Club,” Luckerath said.

Malibu City Council candidate Mikke Pierson said he had never had a booth at the chili cook-off before, but thought this might be a good way to meet people. He was surprised by how well the chilies went over with the crowd. 

“We sold 30 gallons so far,” he said at noon on Saturday, “and we might need more. On Friday, we sold out completely.”

Sofia Gillen, the youngest chili cook-off judge ever (at the age of 13), said she had never tasted chili before, but decided she liked it after trying 11 different kinds.

This was the first year for a people’s choice award, and all the votes tallied over Saturday and Sunday gave it to chef Darrell Gillcrese of Mestico Afro Latin Cuisine for his “Love Muff Chili.”

Unvarnished, headed by Scott Gillen, was the fair’s sustainability partner, providing on-site recycling, waste bins, composting and a hydration station for water bottle refills. Malibu Village sponsored the skate ramp, Tony and Cindy Dorn sponsored the main stage and Douglas Elliman Real Estate sponsored the chili competition.

Proceeds from the Chili Cook-Off will go directly to BGCM as well as six other Malibu youth serving organizations: Malibu’s public schools, TheraSurf, Children’s Lifesaving Foundation, Emily Shane Foundation, Creative Visions/Rock Your World and The Malibu Special Education Foundation. The nonprofit LA County Disaster Communications Service (DCS), which coordinated event parking, will receive proceeds that will help support a repeater station in the Santa Monica Mountains.


Chili Cook-Off Contest


– Mestico Afro Latin Cuisine

– WeHo Sausage Company

– LA County Fire Department with Explorer Post 5

– Pasadena Men’s Rugby Team

– Malibu Rugby Team

– Mikke Pierson [for City Council]

– Casa Escobar

– Ethan the Robot

– Sonja Randall

– Mike and Henry Schrage

“Traditional Chili” judges:

Scott Tallal, Diane Peterson, Margott Rifenbark, Ellen Cato, David Olan, Maggie Luckerath, Yvonne Gelbman, Gregory Beaton and Sofia Gillen

First place—Ethan Long for “Ethan the Robot’s Cocoa Chili”

Second place—Pasadena Rugby Team for “Pasadena Ruckin’ Good Chili” 

Third place—Mikke Pierson for “Down the Hatch Chili,” by Mark Wetton

“Vegetarian/ Vegan Chili” judges:

State Senator Henry Stern, Jim Marsh, Denise Peak, Judy Abel, David and Denise Kautter, Darlene Dubray, Maggie Luckerath and Yvonne Gelbman

First place—Phillip Jebran of WeHo Sausage Company for “Summer Garden Veggie”

Second place—Pasadena Rugby Team for “Pasadena Ruckin’ Good Vegan Chili”

Third place—Mikke Pierson for  “Wild Child Vegan,” by Maria Manuel