Chili Cook-Off is hot, hot, hot!

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Bob Plager, Sunday's 1st place Red Chili winner and Patty Summers, 1st place winner on Sunday for her Chili Verde recipe.

Casa Escobar’s Russell Harvey wins People’s Choice and Merchant awards, Jack Evans takes home a Hummer and everyone has a taste of chili in the annual Kiwanis Chili Cook-Off during Labor Day weekend.

By Lori Allen /Special to The Malibu Times

The Malibu Kiwanis Club 24th annual Chili cook off once again lived up to its promise of bringing another successful event to the community. This year judges had a tougher time deciding on the best chili due to an increase of candidates submitting mouth-watering recipes.

Judges had to be very selective in determining the right tastes, flavors, meats, sauces, textures, color and how well everything blends together to decide which is the best chili for 2005.

Armando Sanchez, a Chili Cook-Off judge from Westminster, has been involved with the Malibu event since 1994.

“If a chili does not taste right once it enters your mouth, you make comments on your ballot but then eliminate that particular one,” Sanchez said of how to judge. “But if the chili tastes real good, it is a notation for you to come back and taste it again. This year we had to go through a lot of eliminations to make our choice for a winner, and there was lot of good chili.”

Dana Karney, chairperson of the Cook-Off contest said, “We try to make this a fun and positive event for chili cooks and the community. The goal is to get everyone to taste a lot of chili and get into the spirit of competition and camaraderie to enjoy.”

The chili contests took place only on Saturday and Sunday, but the carnival lasted the entire three-day weekend. Festivalgoers enjoyed live music, an assortment of food from local Malibu eateries, amusement rides and unique handmade art items from vendors. Malibu resident Jack Evans won a new black H3 2005 Hummer from the raffle drawn. A vacation certificate worth $2,000 went to music producer David Foster and Linda Thompson and another trip worth $1,000 went to John Myers. Miss Malibu pageant winner Ashley Jay was onsite to read off the raffle winners.

Malibu Kiwanis member and Chili Cook-Off volunteer Saul Cirnigliaro estimated that more than 13,000 people attended the festivities. The chili judges consisted of Malibu locals, chili experts, retired school administrators, local merchants and some celebrities.

Dozen of chili cooks prepared gallons of homemade chili in hopes of winning many of the prizes offered and the chance to compete in the 2005 World’s Championship Chili Cook-Off scheduled next month in Omaha, Neb. where the grand prize winner takes home $25,000. Chili cooks traveled many miles to compete in Malibu’s event. Winners of the International Chili Society’s Red Chili Contest received a trophy, bragging rights, cash prizes and the chance to qualify in the world championship.

Kathy Hipskind, 2004 World Championship Chili Cook-Off winner, traveled from Sacramento with her husband, David, to compete. This was the Hipskind’s first time attending the Malibu cook-off and it will not be their last. “I love it here in Malibu. It is wonderful and nice to see the public out here near the ocean,” Kathy Hipskind said.

On Saturday, in the amateur Red Chili category Sonny Allen won 4th place, Dick Swenberger took 3rd place, JR Knudson won 2nd place and Nancy Swenberger took 1st place.

In the Salsa category, 1st place went to Patti Summers, 2nd place to Dorothy VanWagner and 3rd place to Tom Clarke. The Chili Verde winners were: 1st place, Dorothy Van Wagner, 2nd place, Larry Jones and 3rd place, Fred Summers. Kevin Ryan and his Budweiser booth won Malibu’s favorite chili and best booth.

Sunday winners included: Jeff Lewis for Best Booth, Patti Summers for Best Showmanship and Gary Horton for the People’s Choice Award. Dick Swenberger was the only one to win in the Salsa category for Sunday. The Chili Verde winners were 1st place Patti Summers, 2nd place Fred Summers and 3rd place Rob Van Wagner. In the Red Chili category Sachiko Brecke won 3rd place, Ken Brown won 2nd place and Bob Plager of Littleton, Colo. placed 1st. The 1st place winners from Saturday and Sunday in the Red Chili, Salsa and Chili Verde categories will be able to send their recipes to qualify for the international competition.

Plager heard about the Malibu event from his friend in Orange County and even titled his recipe as the “California No Fault Red Chili.” This year alone, Plager’s chili entered 47 contests and cites prunes as one of his secret ingredients that judges seem to favor.

“I am known as the prune man in the chili society. The prunes make the chili a little sweeter and the gravy has a beautiful gloss to it,” Plager said as to why he thought his chili won first place. “For Sunday’s recipe I cooked a normal recipe and did not add any extra heat but added a small amount of cumin and salt in order to make it a tasty but mild chili.”

Casa Escobar’s Russell Harvey celebrated big on Saturday by winning trophies for the People’s Choice Award and Malibu’s Merchant Award. Harvey and his wife, Kathy, might put their chili on the menu for Sunday Brunch or Monday Night Football when their restaurant re-opens in 2006. Harvey said he would donate the $150 he won from the People’s Choice Award to charity.

“This is a great event and people are coming down here to donate proceeds for the hurricane relief fund,” Harvey said.

Due to the recent devastation from Hurricane Katrina many of the event’s proceeds will be donated to victims in the Southeast and other local charities.

Longtime Malibu resident and clothing store owner Diedre Higgins won the award for the Most Spirited Booth on Saturday and cooked vegan chili as a healthy alternative. Higgins and her chili helper wore festive chili costumes and lavishly decorated their booth to display the event’s aura.

“Now that I am a business owner in Malibu I wanted to find a way to get involved with the community,” Higgins said. “I plan to enter this contest again next year since Malibu is close to my heart.”