Lovers of chili and alcohol came out in droves for the 32nd annual Big Chili Contest last Saturday. The contest is hosted every year by MVY Radio and promotes good chili for a good cause — all proceeds from the benefit go to the Red Stocking Fund, which gives food, clothing, and toys to children during the holidays.
Eleven professional and seven amateur competitors set up underneath tents at the Portuguese-American Club to serve their own special chili, ranging from hot to cold and sweet to spicy. In the end, the Harbor View Hotel walked away with the first-place prize of best professional chili, while longtime chili contest participant Bob Costello won first place in the amateur category.
Costello said he’s been crafting chili for the contest for 26 years, claiming he is a “humble professional amateur”; he’s a six-time winner. He also added he doesn’t golf or own a boat, so chili making is his hobby. This time around, Costello decided to stray from the meat chilis he usually makes to create an all-veggie cold chili. “It’s amazing what you can think of when you’re on Nyquil,” he said with a laugh.
While many participants had their fair share of experience at the contest, some were enjoying their first time at the event. Two newcomers, Amanda Fielding and Katrina Lakis, were serving Hillbilly Chili for the Ocean View Restaurant. Their chili was a combination of moonshine, dark chocolate, green chilis, bacon, and cinnamon served with a small piece of jalapeño cornbread.
“It’s a blast,” Mark Ceppi, an amateur chili contestant from Shrewsbury, said of his first contest. Ceppi was serving his own traditional chili that featured four different meats and four different peppers.
With the contest running from 10:30 am to 7 pm, contest patrons had plenty of music and entertainment to keep them going all day long. Corona beer decorations festooned the tent canopy, and attendees posed for pictures with a giant inflatable Corona bottle. Live bands and DJs played catchy music for everyone to dance along to. Featured musicians included the BaHa Brothers, DJ JuLee, Island Grown, and DJ Alvzie and the P5 Band.
Traditionally the contest is held during the winter months, but this year, MVY Radio, along with Mike Santoro and the Santoro Hospitality Group, decided to hold the event in the spring. Jen Toppin, general manager at Ocean View Restaurant and assistant to Mike Santoro, said the change came from wanting to open up the contest to more people who would be on the Island in the spring, as opposed to the winter, and more Island businesses would be open and could participate.
Toppin also said the contest had seen its fair share of difficulties with ice storms, cold weather, and even snow caving in a tent one year. Once the idea was agreed on, the only decision left was to pick a date. Toppin and the rest of the organizers decided on Cinco de Mayo, which seemed to be a perfect fit.
“It’s a really exciting year because it’s gone through a change. Traditionally, it had been in the winter, but now we’re doing it in the warm weather,” P.J. Finn, the program director at WMVY, said.
“Hang on to your spoon,” Finn said when asked about chili contest faux pas. “Other than that, anything goes. You can see people come prepared to get wild and let loose for the day.”
This year marked 18 chili contests for Finn, who helps run the event, and said this has been a transition year. The contest, which is normally run by WMVY, will be led by Santoro and his hospitality group. The change in leadership was the result of how much the contest had grown. Finn said close to six months of preparation was needed for the event, and Santoro, who had been helping run the event for the past few years, was more than capable of taking the lead.
With plenty of first place awards given out in varied categories, the real winner was the Red Stocking Fund. The foundation’s co-chairwomen, Susie Wallo and Sandy Joyce, who were at the front gate selling tickets and giving out wristbands, told the Times they were happy to help out at the event, which has donated its proceeds to the foundation since the first chili contest.
List of winners
Public Votes — Amateur
First place: Bob Costello’s UnOfficial Chili
Second place: Edgartown Fire Department
Third place (tie): Home Bridge Financial
Third place (tie): Property Management of Worcester
Public Votes — Professional
First place: The Harbor View Hotel
Second place: The Black Dog
Third place: Bite on the Go
Mystery Judges Cash Prize Winners
First place: Vineyard Caribbean Cuisine
Second place: The Lookout Tavern
Third place: Property Management of Worcester
Special WMVY Categories
Hottest Chili: Edgartown Fire Department
Best Veggie Chili: Bob Costello’s UnOfficial Chili
Is It Really Chili?: Enchanted Chocolates
Most Traveled Chili: Property Management of Worcester
Best Presentation: Bob Costello’s UnOfficial Chili