Twelve thousand people attended the annual three-day event, which was at a new location this year.
By Michael Aushenker . Special to The Malibu Times
Dozens of chili recipes and a smidgeon of controversy spiced up Malibu Kiwanis Club’s 29th Annual Chili Cook-Off and Carnival during the three-day weekend at a new location in the Malibu Knolls.
The festival’s centerpiece chili contest pitted 10 contestants against each other on Saturday and 11 on Sunday. Malibu Coast Lifeguards and West Hollywood-based restaurant Chili Addiction were the judges’ top picks for Saturday and Sunday, respectively, while Malibu Business and Shipping Center (MBSC) picked up the People’s Choice Awards on both days. On Sunday, actor and longtime Malibu resident Dick Van Dyke chose the winning ticket of a raffle in which a local, Linda MacDonald, won a Mercedes-Benz GLK 350, courtesy of Downtown L.A. Motors.
“It went very surprisingly well. It was more compact and more social,” said John Paola, president of the Malibu Kiwanis and chairman of the Chili Cook-Off, given the Cook-Off’s move to Civic Center and Web Ways. With the building of Legacy Park at the festival’s old location, the carnival moved several hundred yards inland toward City Hall.
The event attracted about 12,000 people. Attendance was strong throughout except for Sunday, when the cold and foggy weather sent some home early.
The local Labor Day weekend tradition continued its tradition of live music, carnival rides and games, and food kiosks, but not without some controversy. Prior to the event, residents of the hills overlooking the event’s site protested its new location. The night before the event, one homeowner called police and succeeded in shutting down a light check.
Otherwise, it was a smooth ride for the annual carnival. A silent auction helped raise money toward Kiwanis Club charities and local programs. (A final count was not available by press time.)
On Sunday, the Malibu Rugby Club felt confident that it could take the 2010 chili crown, thanks to the Englishman Alex Rylance and former New Yorker Pete Tulaney, two members who had won the judges’ competition in 2008 and 2009, respectively. Originally from the island of Guernsey, Rylance said his recipe was not from his native Great Britain but inspired by his recent years in Malibu. A rugby club member had made some chili and he experimented with a stew brew of his own.
“After five or six tries, I went with it and I won the Cook-Off in my first year,” said Rylance, who added that his concoction’s ingredients included “a lot of vegetables [and] pork. It’s really the beef-based broth that makes it.”
Rugby club member Nick Betts guessed that the lifeguards were their biggest competition.
As it turned out, Chili Addiction won the day. The restaurant’s banner boasted 47 varieties of chili, but the sign was outdated, said restaurant owners Johnny Kovin and Richard Foster. They now have up to 92 flavors.
Robert Bryant from Santa Monica and Karen Gibson of Austin, Texas, were among the customers enjoying Chili Addiction’s meat stew.
“It’s so cool at the beach so it’s great to come here to warm up with the chili,” Bryant said, eating a bowl of the spicy Serrano sirloin. Gibson, enjoying the chicken chile relleno, compared it favorably to that of her native state: “It’s well done!”
Kovin believed entering different chili flavors had hurt his chances among the judges on Saturday, so on Sunday, he only entered their best seller, the prime rib chili. The strategy worked and Chili Addiction triumphed. Shortly after winning, Kovin, standing before his empty booth, said, “We sold 100 gallons today. We have not one type of chili left.”
Foster added that lines had been long all weekend.
By Sunday afternoon, a sign at the MBSC booth informed onlookers that their chili, the People’s Choice, was sold out. Indeed, MBSC swept the People’s Choice on both days of the chili competition.
“We were surprised,” said MBSC’s Becky Heath, in attendance with co-workers Nereida Heath and Jonathan “Chef” Hill. This was the first year of competition for the 23-year-old Malibu business, which in May relocated to a site on Pacific Coast Highway near the Pier.
At the booth next door, the line was long at Sunday’s “Best Booth” winner as Anna Menitskaya chopped up tomatoes and peppers in back and Tony Thomas was stirring up a giant vat of his chili, which was really a backdoor way of promoting his product, T’s Organic Hot Sauce, available in green (mild), red (medium) and yellow (extra hot). “I made my chili neutral so you can try our different sauces,” said the Sherman Oaks-based Thomas.
It was the sight of Menitskaya preparing fresh ingredients that sold Ohio State student Michael Rose and Pepperdine University’s Ali Parker on trying Thomas’ chili. Rose tried the red sauce while Parker went green. “I’m very sensitive to spice,” she said.
In the hour before Van Dyke appeared on stage on Sunday evening, with the Kamakaze ride’s boatloads of screaming riders scissoring in the background, the band Imposters jammed Animals and Beatles covers as families sat on bales of hay, enjoying bowls of chili.
Chili contest coordinator Steven Grahek addressed the crowd: “If you’d like to see a 30th Chili Cook-Off, and 30 after that, please send your letters of support to City Council. We need some support to continue this tradition.”
A sleek black Mercedes SUV arrived, and Van Dyke emerged in a black blazer, white pants and matching sneakers. Following a musical introduction by the Our Lady of Malibu Musical Theatre Company Ensemble, Van Dyke bounded to the stage, where the 84-year-old did a frenzied jig straight out of “Mary Poppins” to enthusiastic cheers.
“I’m what’s left of Dick Van Dyke,” joked the local.
He said that when he moved to Malibu in 1985, he judged that year’s chili and “I couldn’t taste anything until Christmas!”
Van Dyke called the SUV winner’s name but MacDonald was not present to claim her prize, which had the actor laughing.
While the Cook-Off was largely a good time for all, not everyone enjoyed the new location’s layout, with a couple people feeling that vendors behind the rides were at a foot-traffic disadvantage. One of the chili judges, Deborah Kramer, admitted that this year’s new location was “a learning curve.”
“People were nervous about it because there was a lot of uncertainty but I’ve received a lot of positive feedback,” Kramer continued. “We’ve heard no complaints about the parking.”
One chili contest organizer complained off the record about the pettiness of the resident who called the cops when the Cook-Off benefits the community at large. Kiwanis’ Paola confirmed that the complaining party contacted police 15 times.
“The Sheriff’s [deputies] seemed annoyed because they had better things to do.”
Rather than acknowledging the “person on the hill,” Paola singled out the efforts of fellow coordinator Sal Cirnigliaro and Amir Falamaki, who provided technical assistance. He praised local entities hired to work the fair, including Malibu Cab and the Boy Scouts.
Looking forward to the festival’s big 3-0 in 2011, Paola said this transitional year had taught him something: “A little more patience.”