Crowds Gather for Chili Cook-Off

The 36th annual Malibu Kiwanis Chili Cook-Off, Carnival & Fair was held over the long Labor Day weekend, attracting thousands of locals and nonlocals alike to eat, drink and be merry. The yearly four-day event not only helps the Kiwanis Club raise big money for nonprofit organizations, but is also its way of bringing the community together. 

When the carnival opened on Friday at 6:00 p.m.—the night billed as “Locals’ Night”—workers were barely prepared for the onslaught of the crowd ready to come in and have a good time. The line of people waiting for admission was a block long at times. 

“We had 4,000 people come on Friday in four hours,” said Sal Cirnigliario, Kiwanis Club vice-president. 

The adults-only beer and wine area near the live music stage was standing-room only.

“It was fabulous,” said Carol Hoyt, co-owner of Hoyt Family Vineyards. “We estimate there were about 1,000 people here (in the Hoyt Wine Garden) at one point. People had a ball; the awesome Riptide Blues Band was playing and people were dancing. People were saying it’s the best party of the year in Malibu—or anywhere, for that matter.”

The carnival included about 22 rides—including three big Ferris wheels and the heart-stopping “Kamikaze.” There were rows of midway games of skill and chance for prizes, 14 chili booths, food trucks, vendors of food, services and merchandise, and booths for nonprofit organizations like the Malibu Labor Exchange.


“We always have new rides every year,” Kiwanis Club President John Paola said.

Fourteen musical acts were booked over the weekend for both the main stage and the Hoyt Wine Garden, including local acts like The Karma Dealers and the Malibu Glee Club.  

The Chili Cook-Off contest took place on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. The 14 chili contestants had the opportunity to compete on Saturday for best “traditional” chili with meat. Sunday, for the first time ever, the vegan/vegetarian chillies were judged separately to compete for their own prize. 

On each day, there was a first prize of $500, a second prize of $300 and third prize of $200. 

First prize for traditional chili was awarded to Russell Harvey, co-owner of Casa Escobar, for his “Russell’s Chili.” He generously donated his $500 prize money back to the Malibu Kiwanis Club. Second prize was taken by last year’s first-prize winner, Ethan Long, creator of “Ethan the Robot’s Cocoa Chili.” Third prize was given to Dan Fagan for his “No. 9 Chili made with Guinness [Stout].” The chili was so named because Fagan is number nine of 12 children.

The first-prize vegan/vegetarian chili winners were Cynthia Pean Chea and Ian Martin of “Diaspora Afrique.” Second prize went to James Sobias of Jersey Jimmy’s Chili and third prize was awarded to Alex Rylance of the Malibu Rugby Club for his “Veg-a-licious” chili. Rylance planned on donating 50 percent of his profits to Hurricane Harvey victims, and raised $1,100.

Malibu local Maggie Luckerath produced this year’s Chili Cook-Off event and was enthusiastic about the turnout and the chili itself.

“This is the first year we judged traditional chili and vegan/vegetarian chili in separate categories,” Luckerath wrote in an email. “I received many comments that it was such a good idea. I totally agree, because judging them in the same category is like judging apples and oranges.”

She went on to say, “It was such a great year, and all the contestants have already been talking about next year! I love to people-watch, and watching the people when they taste the chili with the expressions on their faces is priceless! Every year I say I’m not going to judge again, because it’s such a hard job. In my opinion, each contestant is a winner.”

This year’s Grand Prize raffle was a 2017 Chevrolet Volt. Secondary prizes were trips to Costa Rica or Palm Springs. 

The beneficiary of this year’s fundraising carnival is The Gary Sinise Foundation, which offers a variety of programs to help military veterans and first responders.

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