A hot time in the old town: Chili Contest this weekend
There are many reasons that bring people to the Vineyard - the scenic beauty, the beaches, and the sun - during the warm months. But the attraction of the Island in midwinter may elude most people, unless, of course, they have ever been to the annual Big Chili Contest.
The annual event has become so popular that it is now something of a cultural phenomenon. Soon it may be right up there with the Agricultural Fair or Illumination Night or, dare I say it, the O.B. Fireworks.
The 24th Big Chili Contest takes place this Saturday, Jan. 30, at 11 am at the Portuguese American Club to benefit the Red Stocking Fund. This year the tent at the PA club will expand to accommodate the increase of attendees, participants and volunteers that make this event a huge success. The ever-growing support is a testament to the event.
"It is incredible how far out the Big Chili Contest reaches," says Mike Santoro, general manager of Season's, chili contest promoter and chili guru of sorts. "People from all over New England make up what is expected to be the biggest turnout yet."
Not only are more people attending the event this year, there are more chili aficionados armed with what they believe to be the best chili recipe in the land.
"This year is the largest number of chili contestants we have had in quite a few years" said Greg Orcutt, general manager of WMVY. "Participants were asked to make a bigger commitment and cook eight or more gallons of chili, and although it has been a difficult year for so many people there were no complaints heard."
Jack Lavallette and Michael Spellman, chili co- captains of the Dr. Jack's Love Chili team, are not complaining, even as they acknowledge that it takes a lot of work. They have participated for the past 10 years and spend a good deal of time working and reworking their recipe, which, by the way, has earned them Best Chili.
"We put a lot of effort into searching for the perfect chili powder and also in the salesmanship and marketing of our chili once we are there" says Dr. Jack.
"It is such a great atmosphere with a great vibe it makes you want to be there," Mr. Spellman says. "And besides, it gives us an opportunity to act like kids again."
They both sing the praises of the work of Red Stocking co-chairs Kerry Alley and Lorraine Clark who work so hard with all their volunteers to see that Island children have what they need at holiday time. "It feels so good to be part of something that is helping the Red Stocking Fund, so you just make it happen and in the end it is all about the love," says Dr. Jack.
Island restaurants are just as enthusiastic about participating in the event. JB Blau of Sharky's and Bill Hart from the Black Dog are once again looking forward to having booths set up next to each other, so much so they requested their chili neighbor weeks ago. "We like to be near one another to make it a fun competition," says JB.
The Sharky's team is also excited about unveiling a new menu item for the restaurant, the Sharky's Chili Cheese Dog. "We will have the final recipe at the booth and everyone tasting our chili will get a mini hot dog."
"It is amazing to look around and see in the end how it all falls into place," says Mike Santoro. "It is tough going out there and the event is a real economic boost to the Island as well as the Red Stocking Fund."
The Big Chili Contest is a collaborative effort that both draws on and contributes to the Island's strong suit - its sense of community. It's one more powerful example of Islanders coming together and pulling together to help others and having a really good time while they're at it.
This year there is an official Pre-Chili Party at Seasons restaurant on Friday evening. Ten tickets to the Big Chili Contest will be given away and there will be music by Mark Hennessy and the Cape Cod Slackers.
For those who do not want the Big Chili Contest to end before their party energy starts to fade, the festivities continue at the PA Club with an après chili party beginning at 3:30 on Saturday and continuing until 6:30 pm. Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish take center stage at 4 pm. u
Big Chili Contest, Sat., Jan. 30, beginning at 11 am, at the Portuguese American Club on Vineyard Ave. in Oak Bluffs.
Marci Moreau is a freelance writer living in Edgartown.