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Sparks sure to fly at chili cook-off

By LORRIE LYKINS
Published March 13, 2007


The hot ticket in the city this week will be the Pinellas Park Firefighters' eighth annual Chili Blaze.

Friday's chili throwdown at the England Brothers Bandshell promises some fierce competition and lots of fun as contenders belly up to their cookstoves for a chance to be named the best.

The Chili Blaze is designed to coincide with the city's annual Country in the Park event Saturday. Over the years, organizers have established rules to make sure everyone has a good time and there are no chili-related injuries. Rule No. 14 says that cooks "may be required to taste their chili before judging. Refusal will result in disqualification."

"That's just so we don't have somebody who decides to get their kicks by cooking up something really hot, then hands it to somebody to try and watches them suffer," said Ray Hansen, a firefighter who started the cook-off in 2000 to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

This year's celebrity judges probably appreciate that clause. They include radio personality Mark Larsen, host of the Morning Magazine radio show on NewsTalk 1040; professional wrestler Fidel Sierra, known to WWF wrestling fans as "The Cuban Assassin"; and Chef Joe Bonanno, a 21-year veteran of the New York City Fire Department. Bonanno is known as "America's favorite firehouse chef."

Food vendors will offer subs, hot dogs, funnel cakes and more. Proceeds still benefit MDA.

An honor also is given for the best booth decoration.

"The guys from Pinellas Park's water department had a booth a while back that was based on that George Clooney movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and they had the whole Appalachian thing down to a T. It was something," Hansen said.

If you go

Chili Blaze

When: 6 to 11 p.m. Friday

Where: England Brothers Bandshell (Town Square Plaza), 5121 80th Ter., Pinellas Park

Info: www.chiliblaze.com

By the numbers

$20,000 how much the event raised for MDA last year

12,000 chili-lovers attended last year's event

1,600 16-ounce Budweiser beers that will be served

350 gallons of chili expected to be served Friday

40 entrants in this year's cook-off

5 gallons of chili contestants are required to cook

3 judges who will critique the gastronomic offerings

3 hours contestants have to cook their chili