The Chili Champion award winner, pictured center, is Chef Kelli Montgomery. She said her winning Half Crocked Chili gets its name because “its cooked for half of the time in a crock pot.” Brian Wilson, left, is the self-proclaimed main chili head of the team while Christina Gamage, right, was in charge of decorations. Montgomery won a medal, $100 and bragging rights for a year.
eople know a cook-off competition is successful when it runs out of food early.
The second annual family-friendly Gulfport Artsy Phartsy Chili Cook-Off and Salsa Showoff event was a hit with attendees and participants based on the availability of good eats and attendance.
On Sunday, March 19, the competition between 10 chefs or cooking teams at the Historic Gulfport Casino began at 4 p.m. By an hour later, several had run out of chili.
“We started with three-and-a-half gallons of chili and two huge trays of corn bread,” said Chef Paul Ray, a veteran chili cook-off competitor at other events. By 5 p.m., his table was bare. “We went through about 150 sample-sized serving cups.”
The event lasted until 7 p.m. and included live music from Gulfport’s Urban Gypsies of Florida.
The $10 for adults and $5 for kids entry fees gave people unlimited access to food presented by 10 different contenders.
Attendance was about 225, which was three times the 2016 number, said Amy Oatley, co-owner of Business Brainstormers of Gulfport, the cook-off sponsor.
“We stopped selling tickets at 5:30 p.m. because the chili was gone,” said Oatley.
Lynn DiVenuti, co-owner of the sponsoring business, was all smiles regarding the turnout.
“Everyone is having a great time,” said DiVenuti. “Next year, it’s going to be twice as big.”
Blind judging determined the best chili and salsa winners for medals and a $100 cash prize while attendees decided the People’s Choice award through the purchase of unlimited vote tickets that sold for $1 each. All winners walked away with a year’s worth of bragging rights.
The $227 raised for the fan favorite was split 50/50 between the winning chef and the event’s 2017 local non-profit charity, Gulfport’s Limbo Chihuahuas & Chihuahua Mix Rescue. Additionally, ten percent of the proceeds from the event were donated to the rescue group.
The Salsa Sovereign award winner had an entry made with mango, pineapple, roasted red peppers and a little cilantro, habanero peppers and lime. Executive Chef Travis Hawks, right, of Gulfport’s Fish Bar and Grille, said, “It’s the same recipe served in the restaurant.” Cathy Burke, left, provided moral support for the team and recipe hints. Hawks won a medal, $100 and bragging rights for a year.
People’s Choice award winner Geno Sviderskas, right, a musician from Gulfport, chats with attendees at his cook-off table. “I’m not trying to repeat my chili” from a previous local competition where he placed second, he said. “It’s always out of my head. I have no idea what I’m doing. It’s custom every time.” Why do he and his wife Debie compete? “Because the chili tastes pretty good!” he said.
The local non-profit charity benefitting from the cook-off event is Gulfport’s Limbo Chihuahuas & Chihuahua Mix Rescue. From left, Diane Litt, a volunteer and foster fur-person mom, Chi Chi the 4-year-old special-needs Chihuahua who is looking for a forever home, and Denise Lowe, a member of the charity’s board of directors and fundraising chair. “We don’t just take in healthy dogs. We also take in those with a lot of needs,” said Lowe. “We take care of those needs and then we make them adoptable.” Megan Barrett, the president of the charity was also at the event. “We are really thankful for this great amount of support,” said Barrett. “It really makes us feel good.”