The celebration of the 40-year birthday of lakeside’s Chili Cookoff charity benefit lived up to all expectations with three straight days of spicy activity that drew record crowds to the Tobolandia fairgrounds.
Throngs of visitors snaked through the cooks’ tent each day to sample tongue-tingling salsas, mind-bending margaritas and eclectic versions of southwest style chili, with and without animal flesh.
Saturday’s big parade — filled with floats, Shriner sport cars, beauty queens, a color guard, a drum and bugle corps, and a platoon of dancing horses — pulled in the weekend’s biggest crowd.
During the ribbon cutting that ensued, Cookoff founders and past Mexican and gringo cooks were honored with plaques and accolades while they reminisced about the early days. Accepting honors were Judy Eager, Ann Whiting, many times Best Mexican cook Carlos Soto, veteran cookoff judge Antonio Andalón and 2008 Mexican National Champion Sue Schools, who was the last Ajijic representative to compete at the Chili World Championship in Reno, Nevada.
Folks who are relatively new to the area got an introduction to the event’s long history while perusing memorabilia displayed in the museum booth.
Continuous live entertainment of diverse genres kept tables in the main stage area filled to capacity, firing up mass consumption of food and drink for sale in adjacent stalls. Shoppers emptied their wallets scooping up souvenirs and the wide array of merchandise offered in the sprawling marketplace. Many cashed in raffle tickets for scores of fabulous prizes.
Best of all, Cookoff organizers racked up plenty of revenue to be distributed among eight worthy charities once the accounting books are closed.
Sunday’s top chili teams were Margarita’s Madness (third place), Perry’s Pizza (second) and Alex’s Pasta Bar (first and People’s Choice). Judges picked the gang from Merendero Lake Burgers as this year’s first place Margarita mixers. Second place went to Funky Finn’s, third to Azul Frida and People’s Choice to Casa Bonanza Bar.
Chili Cook head wrangler Carol Bouchard presented trophies to Saturday’s winning chili chefs Keith Cooper (second place and People’s Choice) for his Willie Billy Chili, Juan Diego and Allera Malo (third) with their Gallo de Allende goat meat recipe, and Greg Davin and Ray Blasko (first) for the Una Mas masterpiece. Restaurateurs aced Friday’s Salsa contest, with Perry Phillips of pizza fame taking first place and chef Emmanuel of Forest Grill tying for second with Daniel Ibarra of the Hot Dog Shop who won People’s Choice.
Entertaining the masses
Red hot acts on the entertainment bill included crack guitarist Blue Jay Slim and his band, the flashy musicians of the Tenampa Brass Band, and the “Elvis Lives” number featured by the Crooners jazz duo.
Chili cookoff recognizes its dedicated servants over the years
(Top) Mexican National co-founder Ann Whiting, the event’s matriarch Judy Eager and long-time emcee Aurora Michel shared ribbon-cutting duties to officially open the Cookoff’s 40th anniversary. (Center) Memorabilia collected over four decades was showcased in the nostalgia tent. (Bottom) Silvia Flores and Dale Palfrey were recognized as Cookoff stalwarts with a perfect attendance record over the event’s four decades.