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Chili gives 3-event weekend oomph
By ANNE LINDBERG
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2000
PINELLAS PARK -- One thing's clear after last weekend. People love chili and country music. They're less enthusiastic about women's festivals.
Chili and music lovers flocked to the first two events in Pinellas Park, making the first-time chili cook-off a fundraising winner and giving the 10-year-old Country in the Park its most successful year ever. Fewer attended Sunday's Serendipity gala celebrating women, but the charity event still made money.
"Chili was the draw," said Pinellas Park firefighter Ray Hansen, who organized Friday's Chili Blaze 2000. "Once it was gone, the crowd started dispersing slowly."
Estimates of attendance ran from 4,500 to 6,000, which city officials said was remarkable for a first-ever event.
"I know there were a lot of people there. It was a madhouse," Hansen said. "We ran out of ballots like 10 minutes into it . . . we ran out of (4,500) sample cups 30 minutes into it. We ran out of chili 90 minutes into it."
Firefighters raised about $7,000 in gross receipts. Hansen estimated a $5,500 profit. The money will be used so children from the region can attend the Tampa Bay Muscular Dystrophy Association Summer Camp in Brandon for free.
"That was right where we were planning, so that was good," Hansen said.
The crowds were ready for country music Saturday. An estimated 29,316 folks gathered to hear country music star Jerry Reed and others picking and singing. That's about 15 percent higher than last year's attendance, Pinellas Park public information officer Melanie Hasburgh said.
It's unclear how much money was raised for charities because a final accounting will not be available until the end of the month, Hasburgh said.
What Serendipity lacked in attendance it had in spirit and good will, said Billie Noakes, who organized the event.
Noakes attributed the small turnout to first-year growing pains. She intends to reprise the festival next year and expects a better turnout and more interest then.
But the talk of Pinellas Park on Monday was the Chili Blaze as some justified their wins and others teased them about having an inside track with the judges.
"We won three trophies and it wasn't fixed," Pinellas Park council member Rick Butler said. Butler was referring to the three trophies he won with fellow council member Ed Taylor and city employee Jerry Garner for the concoction at their "Irish Wake" booth. The three had dressed in suits and stood in front of a coffin with a dead alligator on top while people signed a funeral book to get samples of Taylor Funeral Home's "You Don't Want to Know What's In It Chili." As they advertised on a fake tombstone, it was "chili to die for."
The three won in the Corporate Class, the Best Booth and the Hottest Chili categories.
"I'm referring to it as the trifecta," Taylor said. "We set a benchmark for spice temperature. There's going to be stuff out there next year that's nuclear."
Other winners included Gene Lightfield for the Most Unique Chili and the Wing House for the People's Choice. Pinellas Park firefighters Joe Greene, Ed Burgess and Don Schultz won two awards, in the Firefighter class and for the Overall Championship, with their Deerhunter's Delight.
"The recipe was found on the Internet," Greene said.
His girlfriend downloaded several recipes, and the three firefighters chose the one that seemed to be the most interesting.
"All of a sudden, we're getting the award," Greene said. "It was pretty amazing really. We weren't expecting to win anything at all."
But perhaps the most-talked-about chili was the Open Class winner, R.G.'s Plumbing of Pinellas Park.
"It was called "A Pot of ?' because we served it out of the toilet bowl," said Marcia Seeders, who owns the plumbing business with her husband, Ralph.
The Seeders almost upset Taylor's group for the best booth award, Hansen said.
"It was witty and whimsical, which is what we are into," Hansen said of the Seeders' decision to use a new toilet as a serving dish.
Mrs. Seeders said this is the first time she has entered a chili cook-off.
"I was never so shocked in my life winning that trophy. . . . Never in a trillion years did I think we'd win that," she said.
While she expects to enter next year's competition, she won't be able to duplicate the recipe. She started out with 10 pounds of ground sirloin, added some medium salsa and "just started throwing stuff in there."
"That's how I cook," Mrs. Seeders said. "Every time I make something, I make it different."
* * *
Here are three of the recipes that won awards in last Friday's Chili Blaze 2000:
Taylor Funeral Home's You Don't Want to Know What's in It Chili (Chili to Die For)
Brown meat with onions and drain. Add garlic, jalapeno peppers and spices. Add tomato paste and reserved chipotle liquid to distribute spices thoroughly in meat. Let reduce as necessary. Add diced tomatoes and tomato sauce and heat thoroughly. Add chili beans. Check flavor and spice temperature. Adjust to taste. One gallon.
Lowfat White Seafood Chili Topped with Fruit Salsa (courtesy of Tony Bartolo of the Wing House, Culinary Department)