Carb-loading for a cause—the 15th Annual Petaluma Chili Cook-off, Salsa and Beer Tasting is this Saturday, May 12, 2012, and it benefits Cinnabar Theatre’s Youth Programs
Most of us don’t need an excuse to eat but this Saturday offers a great reason to indulge—it’s the 15th Annual Petaluma Chili Cook-off, Salsa and Beer Tasting, an all-you-can-eat extravaganza— and all the proceeds fund Cinnabar Theatre’s wonderful youth programming. The event runs from 1 to 5 p.m. at Herzog Hall at the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds in Petaluma. This year, 55 teams of chili and salsa challengers and 14 Bay Area breweries are participating and there will be chili and salsa galore to sample and judge, and plenty of beer, including special microbrews, to quench your thirst. The goal—to determine the best-of-the-best when it comes to meat chili, veggie chili, traditional salsa, fruit salsa. Defending their 2011 title for best meat chili by individual will be Tree Huggin’ Hippies; best meat chili by restaurant/ Whole Foods; best vegetarian chili/ Tree Huggin’ Hippies; best traditional salsa/ Tree Huggin’ Hippies and best fruit salsa/Sonoma Salsa. There’s also a People’s Choice award given in each of the categories. Come early, eat plentifully, and see if you can spot the taste of victory.
The cook-off’s founder and organizer, Laura Sunday, deemed “Empress”—who also runs Taste of Petaluma every September—has fond memories of last year’s contest and high hopes for this one. “Last year we had 15 young guys from Chicago who attended our Chili Cook-off for a Bachelor Party. They drove up from SFO in a limousine and partied all day long with us. I asked them how they heard about us. They said they wanted to go to a chili cook-off to celebrate and when they researched it, ours kept coming up as the best in the West, so they planned their entire trip around our event.”
Last year, the event was attended by 1,300 people and raised $50,000 for Cinnabar Theater’s youth programs which include a variety of classes in the performing arts for children of ages 4 through 18; Cinnabar’s Young Repertory Company, which produces 4 fully staged shows annually; and Cinnabar’s very popular Summer Camps, which provide an immersive 4 week training leading up to a staged performance or musical revue. This year, there are three camps offered that will perform Musical Madness (Broadway hits revue), Rock ‘n’ Music Roll (rock opera) and Les Miserable.
“We’re heading into our 40th season for our Young Rep program and are proud to say that no child is turned away for lack of funds,” said Elly Lichenstein, Cinnabar’s Artistic Director. “We have between 450 and 500 students coming from all over the North Bay every year and we offer a range of scholarships and the Chili tasting is our biggest fund raiser of the year—it’s vital to our survival.” Lichenstein is proud that her program has launched several careers in the arts. One Cinnabar alumnus is in Hollywood making movies and several students, now sprinkled across the country, are pursuing acting careers.
“What I love about the chili cook-off is that it’s such a celebration,” said Lichenstein. “Everyone’s having a great time, packed in this hall like sardines and eating away, and it brings out a whole different demographic than we see during our regular performance season—these are people who love chili and they don’t necessarily love theatre and it’s fabulous.”
How does the competition work? Some chili contests adhere to purist rules about what chili is and isn’t and what it can and can’t be. Some contests, for example, don’t allow beans in chili. In Petaluma, things are flexible and Sunday doesn’t give entrants any rules about chili or salsa. “I love beans! If you want to put beans in your chili, I will not say no.”
Because there are only 55 contestants, and entry is handled on a first-come, first-served basis, anybody with a hot recipe and the requisite $65 to $75 entry fee who entered before the March 15, 2012 deadline, made the cut. Most of last year’s winners are back to defend their titles, including the mystifying Tree Huggin’ Hippies who won the meat chili, vegetarian chili and vegetarian chili by individuals divisions.
Each contestant has been asked to prepare a whopping 9 gallons of the recipe entered, enough for the panel of judges and community tasting. Chili judging will be by a blind taste test and all chili and salsa will be served to the judges in 2 oz. plastic cups. The judges will have no contact with the chili or salsa challengers. Judging is on the basis of taste and personal preference of the V.I.P. judging panel—a team of 13 foodies and community members selected by Dick Kapash, the retired founder of Petaluma’s SOLA Optical. “I can’t get enough of those fine chili dishes…the chili, salsa and beer just keep getting better every year,” said Kapash, who has worked with Laura Sunday for about 9 years planning the event. Each judge tastes either chili or salsa and votes. This year’s judges are Dick Kapash, David Glass, Ryan Williams, Yovanna Bierberich, Steve Jaxon, Jason Jenkins, Mike Harris, Geraldine Duncann, Mary McCusker, Jason Davies, Geneva Anderson, Joe Davis, Nick Grizzle.
When asked to judge again, I agreed immediately. I love the competitive edge it brings out, the fun of people watching and the joy of eating. I opted for salsa—refreshing, tart and spicy—I make it frequently and am always up for a new twist. And, frankly, I am interested in seeing how others adjust their recipes to get that fresh flavor burst in non-tomato season. When you’ve got juicy sun-ripened heirloom tomatoes at your fingertips, everything is already easier.
Awards: There will be 4 “People’s Choice” trophies given for Meat Chili, Veggie Chili, Salsa and Beer. A panel of distinguished judges from the community will award “Judges’ Choice” trophies for Best Restaurant, Business, Service Organization, Individual, Salsa, and Vegetarian Chili, and an overall “Grand Champion Chili.” Other awards will be given for best team costumes, best booth decorations, most spirited team, best salsa and chili display, and any other wacky contest that the organizers can come up. Runners up will also be awarded.
Live Entertainment: Although the main event on Saturday will be the chili and salsa contest, in Behren’s Park, just next to Herzog Hall, there will be music by Soup Sandwich, an 8 piece local Ska band (1 PM to 1:45 PM), and Sonoma County favorites Stony Point, performing a crowd-pleasing mix of rock and blues plus some original tunes for dancing and listening pleasure (3 PM to 4:30 PM). Local dance companies Raks Rosa Dance Company (belly dance, middle eastern)(1:45 to 2 PM) and FIERCE Dance Company (hip-hop) (2:45 PM to 3 PM) and are also on the docket. The Amazing Caine will perform dazzling magic tricks and Fred Speer of Clark’s Pest Control will offer a Bug Zoo and promises a collection of very interesting insects. (full entertainment schedule)
If you sign on for the beer tasting component of the event—an additional $15–you’ll have your fill of the offerings of 15 local micro-breweries producing the finest premium ales around.
More About Cinnabar Theater:
Cinnabar Theatre winds up its 39th season with Garson Kanin’s Born Yesterday, playing May 25-June 10, 2012. This 1946 hilarious tale features a not-so-dumb-blonde, her less-than-honest brute of a boyfriend, and the no-nonsense reporter who helps her uncover Washington’s dirty little secrets and life’s glorious possibilities. Get your tickets here or call 707.763.8920.
Sing We & Chant It, Cinnabar Chamber Singers, Spring Concert, with Michael Shahani, Directing. Cinnabar Chamber Singers is a thing of rare beauty: breathtaking music arranged for several parts, sung by people who find fulfillment and fellowship, offered up to the public in concert. They teach us something about music, art and life, as the notes wrap themselves gently around our hearts. The Spring Concert features Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata #131, Mark Kratz soloist (Don Ottavio in this Spring’s Don Giovanni), as well as a set of beloved madrigals and exciting new works. (May 27, 2 PM, Petaluma’s United Church of Christ, 825 Middlefield Drive, Petaluma) Get your tickets here or call 707.763.8920.
Details: 15th Annual Petaluma Chili Cook-off, Salsa and Beer Tasting is Saturday, May 12, 2012, from 1 to 5 p.m., at the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds, Herzog Hall, Petaluma (located at East Washington and Payran Streets in Petaluma) Chili, salsa and beer tasting $40, Chili and salsa Tasting $25, Kids under 12 $10, under 5 free. ID necessary for beer. Tickets can be purchased in advance online, or the day of the event.
It’s no secret to those of us who live in Petaluma that our town is bursting with fabulous eateries—we now have over 140 restaurants─ and Petaluma is now recognized as the gourmet dining destination for Sonoma County and the Wine Country. This Saturday, the 6th annual Taste of Petaluma will offer samplings from over 60 of our town’s finest chefs, food purveyors, wineries and breweries. “Taste” is the perfect way to acquaint yourself with Petaluma’s culinary offerings by spending a leisurely afternoon visiting the eateries, hosting galleries and stores, (many of which are in Petaluma’s lovely Historic Downtown area) which will be serving generous tastes of signature dishes. The festive afternoon will also include live musical entertainment (schedule)—classical, jazz, folk, acoustic, rock─and belly dancers, an aspiring Elvis, a magician and more!
Over the past two weeks, I accompanied Taste of Petaluma’s coordinator Laura Sunday and a gung-ho group of local food writers to pre-tastes all around town and ate (and ate and ate). I have been asked to focus on a few tantalizing vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free offerings, along with my personal favorites.
“Taste of Petaluma” is truly unique in the roll-out of gourmet events in Northern CA,” explained Laura Sunday. “You get to experience the ambience of the restaurant or venue itself, chat with the owners, and the food is all prepared right on the spot─it hasn’t been sitting around waiting to be served in a booth.”
All of the purveyors generously donate their food to Taste, knowing that a sample is the best advertising that money can buy. And because the proceeds go directly to Cinnabar Theater, which so enriches our community, the entire event has a feel-good vibe to it, whether you’re on the supply or demand end of the equation.
Sunday is quick to point out that Cinnabar Theater is struggling to make up the funding it lost when the City of Petaluma’s TOT (Transient Occupancy Tax) subcommittee cut Cinnabar’s annual TOT funding from $70,000 to zero over the course of two years. “That was a tremendous blow. Now, Cinnabar is even more dependent on its two main fund-raising events─the Great Petaluma Chili Cookoff, Salsa and Beer Tasting (every May) and Taste of Petaluma (every
September). I moved to Petaluma because of Cinnabar Theatre and its tremendous youth programming. Both of my children have careers in the arts that are a direct result of the training they received at Cinnabar. Cinnabar’s productions are an integral part of our community’s rich offerings.”
Now, on to the food!
Wild Goat Bistro (6 Petaluma Boulevard North, Suite A5) in the Great Petaluma Mill, wowed me last year with its offerings of rustic artisan pizzas and, once again, owner Nancy DeLorenzo bowled me over by presenting an array of foods that looked and tasted so good, I literally got lost in taking photos of these magnificent gourmet artworks. This year, Nancy’s sisters are flying in to help out for Taste, and Wild Goat is offering three of it most demanded artisanal pizzas: Perfect Pair–pear, fontina cheese, smoked ham, topped with gorgonzola; Mediterranean Pizza—pesto base with purple onions, tomatoes, fresh mushrooms, artichokes, mozzarella cheese; and That’s a Meatball—tomato sauce, pesto, mozzarella and Niman Ranch Angus meatballs. Wild Goat is not offering any gluten-free selections for Taste but their regular menu does include several gluten free options, including gluten-free Neapolitan-style thin crust pizzas and several desserts.
(Be sure to check out ARThound’s slide show of an afternoon of pizza-making with Nancy, Laura Sunday and Houston Porter. We mastered the thin crust.)
Everest Indian Restaurant, (56 East Washington Street) in the Golden Eagle Shopping Center, owned and managed by Gopal and Shanti Gauchan and their daughter, Sunita, offers a tantalizing mix of Indian, Nepalese and Tibetan dishes with sauces of sheer perfection. For Taste, Everest will offer a choice of Vegetable Tikka Masala or Prawns in Apricot Sauce. The Vegetable Tikka Masala is a perfect choice for vegetarians as it contains locally-sourced carrots, cauliflower, mushrooms, Italian squash and a smattering of white turnip —all slowly cooked to
release maximum flavor in a sauce whose base ingredients include sautéed onions, tomato paste, garlic, and light cream simmered with a special blend of spices (including ancient fenugreek, cardamom, and ginger), and slices of dried Granny Smith apples. The result─a rich, sweet golden medley.
And in case you haven’t tried Everest’s signature Apricot Chicken or Apricot Prawns yet, the secret is in Gopal’s succulent apricot-coconut sauce─it’s sweet and creamy, but not too sweet. After living in California, Gopal noticed that people here love sauces but are weary of cumin-dominated flavoring. When he added the apricots, a beautiful orange fruit just loaded with that most people find delicious (that is actually categorized as a plum species), he had a winner. Everest will offer a lightly fried jumbo prawn simmered in this succulent sauce, garnished with dried apricot and lightly steamed broccoli.
And when you decide to come back for lunch or dinner, Everest’s Chicken Tikka Masala is consistently ranked by customers as the best they have had, ever. There are also several variations of freshly cooked naan, that sumptuous traditional Indian bread, ranging from unembellished Plain Naan to Garlic Basil Naan, which is topped with garlic and fresh basil—a staple when it comes to sopping up every drop of sauce on your plate. And, one of the best aspects of dining at Everest, is the chance to take in the artworks that grace the dining area. Right now, there are several charcoal works by Miguel Gonzales on display, and his portraits are very skillfully executed.
Lydia’s Lovin’ Foods, a newcomer to Taste of Petaluma, will be hosted at Pelican Art Gallery (143 Petaluma Blvd. North). Based in Fairfax, Lydia’s has three branches─Lydia’s Organics, Lydia’s Kitchen and Lydia’s Lovin’ Foods─and was founded by Lydia Kindheart. Kindheart was raised in France and lived in Petaluma “many moons ago,” before she started her highly successful companies some 15 years ago which specialize in high-end all organic and gluten free foods, and several raw food items. You may have seen a few of Lydia’s products in Petaluma Whole Foods, where they are sold in the refrigerated deli section. The big news is, within the next couple of months, Lydia is relocating much of her operations to Petaluma and will open Sunflower Center, an 8,000 square feet space on North McDowell with a café, gluten-free bakery and educational center which will host speakers and hold seminars, screenings and events geared toward teaching people about healthful foods and living. Stay tuned.
If you know me reasonably well, I may have sent you emails extolling the virtues of Lydia’s elegant and delicious Purple Goddess Salad. It encapsulates what I, a former Balkan journalist, stand for—namely cabbage, beets, kalamata olives and judicious use of the word “goddess.” This gorgeous, deep purple, hearty salad is dressed with a slightly tangy olive oil vinaigrette, and just bursting with beneficial flavonoids.
For Taste, Lydia will be serving several of her best-sellers: Raw Green Soup (an alkalizing soup with avocado, cucumber and seaweed), Kale-Seaweed Salad (with carrots, sesame seeds and a tamari-ginger dressing), Purple Goddess Salad (with beets, cabbage and Kalamata olives). She will also offer mini raw pizzas made with Cashew “Cheez” ( a delicious dairy alternative spread made from cashews, sesame seeds, tomato, olive oil) and marinated vegetables atop Lydia’s crackers. For dessert, there will be “Cheez” Cake, a light creamy healthy alternative to the traditional favorite made with fresh apples and served on a nut crust.
Hiro Yamamoto’s Hiro’s Japanese Restaurant (107 Petaluma Blvd. North) will be serving its signature California Roll—rice, vinaigrette-marinated seaweed, crab mix, avocado, diced cucumber, mayonaise─prepared on the spot by chef Shige Mori. Hiro’s house salad of organic greens topped with its amazing sesame-miso vinaigrette has such a following that they are asked over and over again to bottle it. For now, it’s only available on the house salad. When you enter, check out Hiro’s marvelous centerpiece—a stunning 7’ x 21’ woodblock print of a giant fish engulfing a crowd of people, which delighted this Pisces to no end. This epic artwork was created especially for the sushi bar by artist Naoki Tekenouchi, who also created the large abstract wood sculpture behind the bar for the restaurant and hand carved its lovely tables from exotic natural woods.
Let’s move on to dessert–
Bovine Bakery (23 Kentucky Street) has earned a special place in my heart for its inviting atmosphere, huge open kitchen where you watch the baking unfold, and their legendary hand-made baked goods—breads, French pastries, coffee cakes, muffins, scones, tarts, pies and cakes─and lunch items such as pizzas, soups, and fabulous salads. And then there’s the sheer bravado of Bovine’s Petaluma Manager, Carolyn Williams, whose first day in business in Petaluma last year was planned to sync with Taste of Petaluma. She was hit with “outrageous demand” all day long and emerged “exhausted but deeply jazzed” that Bovine was on the map. And on the map it is, Bovine has fast become a local hangout and the inviting benches and tables outdoors are usually occupied.
This year, Taste participants visiting Bovine will have a choice of sampling any muffin, scone or stuffed croissant─including their best-selling morning buns. And since “fresh, local and organic” is the Bovine mantra, every hearty and satisfying treat they make is top quality.
Bovine’s gluten-free Taste options this year will include a chewy dark chocolate cherry almond cookie, a coconut macaroon, or a muffin. And for those of you who are not gluten intolerant, these items are so delicious, and have such a wonderful texture, that you won’t even know they are gluten free. I sampled their sinful chewy dark chocolate cherry almond cookie, made with a minimal amount of rice flower, and then I tried their peach orange almond muffin, which was moist and bursting with fruit. Their sugar-free oat bran date almond muffin is sweetened only with dates was delicious. One of the best things about Bovine is their generosity—whether its dark organic chocolate, poppy seeds, nuts, or cheese─ they do NOT skimp on their fillings and that creates a lot of good will. And speak of poppy seeds, Bovine’s poppy seed pastry, a staple of my years in Eastern Europe, warms my heart every time I bite into one—rich (but not too sweet) and so satisfying with that glorious poppy taste. Bovine also offers healthy hearty lunches including a gluten-free quiche option with a polenta crust.
Petaluma Pie Company(125 Petaluma Blvd. North, Suite D, at Putnam Plaza) It’s no secret that filmmakers and bakers Lina Hoshina and Angelo Sacerdote have captured ARThound’s heart on many occasions. Their films are inspirational and their pies are heavenly. Their little shop is just packed with evidence of their artistic flair—a “pie story” board, chalk boards with lists (of ingredients, pie quotes), pie plate mirrors─and it has the BEST aroma in town. For taste, they will offer bites of their two most popular hand pies–chocolate crème and their cheeseburger pie. The cheeseburger pie is made with locally-sourced grass-fed
beef and the cheese is from Spring Hill Jersey Cheese Company. The chocolate cream pie is made with chocolate by San Francisco-based Tcho chocolate. Butter in the pie crusts is provided by Straus Family Creamery.
One of the secrets to Petaluma Pie Company’s fabulous pie crusts is that they are constantly tweaking the crust recipe to fit the filling and that means that that a pie that looks great in their shop will not sag once you get it home. In addition to pie, your Taste ticket will also allow you to try Kona Brewing Company’s beer which pairs wonderfully with any of their savory pies. And if you really want to test Petaluma Pie at their game, ask Angelo if he can assess your “pie face”—that is, accurately predict what type of pie you’ll order.
(Be sure to read ARThound’s feature storyon Petaluma Pie Company’s opening last December. It contains loads of information on the full scope of Lina and Angelo’s creative endeavors.)
Taste of Petaluma Details: Saturday August 27, 2011, 11:30 AM to 4:00 PM.
Pre-event ticket purchases: Packages of 10 tasting tickets are $35 in advance, available online and through Friday, August 26th, at Haus Fortuna (111 2nd Street in the Theater District) and Pelican Art Gallery (143 Petaluma Boulevard North).
Day of Event tickets: On Saturday, August 27th, ticket packages will be $40 and available at
Putnam Plaza (on Petaluma Blvd. North) and Haus Fortuna (111 2nd Street in the Theater District).
A maximum of 1500 ticket packages will be sold for Taste of Petaluma, so buy your tickets early.
Ticket Package Includes:
• Book of 10 dine-around tickets – One sampling item per ticket. You can purchase more tickets throughout the day for $4 each at Putnam Plaza or Haus Fortuna.
• Street Map of sampling locations
• Menu of food and special events offered by participants
• Taste of Petaluma tote bag to first 500 guests
Cinnabar Theatre’s fall season kicks off on September 9, 2011 with the musical, She Loves Me. This delightful romantic comedy is based on the play of the same name and the popular film, The Shop Around the Corner, on which the more recent film You’ve Got Mail is also based. (Book by Joe Masteroff/Music by Jerry Bock; Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick; Based on Parfumerie by Miklos Laszlo.) Get your tickets here or call 707.763.8920.
“The V Concert” is September 10, 2011, and features works exclusively by composers whose last names begin with the letter V, including Vivaldi, and featuring Villa Lobos’ lush “Bachianas Brasileiras” No. 5 for eight cellos and solo soprano and other “V” treats. Soprano Carrie Hennessey, of Cinnabar’s Emmeline fame, will sing the Villa Lobos solo. (listen here for Villa Lobos). The concert is a fundraiser for Cinnabar’s Opera Theater Program and will take place in the lovely West Petaluma gardens at 200 Queens Lane, Petaluma, CA. Tickets: $15 to 20 (purchase here)
Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma, CA 94952, 707.763.8929.
6th Annual Taste of Petaluma is a culinary journey you won’t want to miss, this Saturday, August 27, 2011
Petaluma now has over 140 restaurants and this Saturday, the 6th annual Taste of Petaluma will offer delectables served up by more than 60 of our town’s finest chefs, food purveyors, wineries and breweries. “Taste” is the perfect way to acquaint yourself with Petaluma’s upscale culinary offerings in blissful generously-portioned tastes. Tickets are sold in lots of ten and a single ticket allows you a taste from a large group of participants, growing by the day. This year, there are more vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free offerings than ever. All of the purveyors ARThound will be recommending use fresh locally-grown or sourced ingredients, so stay tuned for a full review later this week. Also included in the ticket package is live entertainment, from music to belly dancing to a magician and more.
All of the purveyors generously donate their food to Taste, knowing that a sample is the best advertising that money can buy and because they recognize the importance of supporting Cinnabar Theater. Located in the old school house on the hill at corner of Skillman Lane and Petaluma Blvd. North, Cinnabar Theatre is a professional non-profit 501(c)(3) regional theatre that serves an annual audience of over 15,000. It is the only venue in Sonoma County that produces opera and musical theater, dramatic theater, chamber series, dance and special festivals and it is entirely dependent on private funding to provide its exceptional programming. Taste of Petaluma, along with the Great Chile Cookoff (held each May), Salsa and Beer Tasting (held each May) are the theatre’s two fundraisers.
Details: Saturday August 27, 2011, 11:30 AM to 4:00 PM.
Tickets are sold in packages of 10 tickets and are available for $35 before Saturday, August 27th, on Saturday for $40, starting at 10:30 a.m. at Putnam Plaza on Petaluma Blvd., or at Haus Fortuna at 111 2nd Street.
A maximum of 1500 ticket packages will be sold for Taste of Petaluma, so buy your tickets early.
Your Ticket Package Includes:
• Book of 10 dine-around tickets – One sampling item per ticket. You can purchase more tickets throughout the day if you like for $4 each.
• Street Map of sampling locations
• Menu of food and special events offered by participants
• Taste of Petaluma tote bag to first 500 guests
The event supports Cinnabar Theater’s programming. Cinnabar ushers in its fall season on September 9, 2011, with the romantic musical, She Loves Me. This delightful performance is based on the based on the play of the same name and the popular films, You’ve Got Mail and The Shop Around the Corner. (Book by Joe Masteroff/Music by Jerry Bock; Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick; Based on Parfumerie by Miklos Laszlo.) Get your tickets here or call 707.763.8920. Click here for more info, including full dates and music samples.
Feel the heat at the 14th Great Petaluma Chile Cook-off, Salsa and Beer Tasting, this Saturday, May 7, 2011, Sonoma Marin Fairgrounds
Leave lunch open this Saturday. You’ll be having chili for a cause–Cinnabar Theater’s fabulous children’s programs. In case you haven’t seen the huge banners displayed all around Petaluma, the 14th Great Petaluma Chili Cook-off, Salsa & Beer Tasting takes place this Saturday, May 7, 2011, from 1 to 4 p.m., at Herzog Hall at the Sonoma Marin fairgrounds. 50 teams of chili and salsa challengers and 15 Bay Area breweries are participating and there will be plenty of chili, salsa and beer to sample and judge. The goal–to determine the best of the best when it comes to meat chili, veggie chili, traditional salsa, fruit salsa. Defending their 2010 title for best chili by individual will be Tree Huggin Hippie; best chili by restaurant/ Larray’s Corner Market; best vegetarian chili/ Whole Foods; best traditional salsa/ CIA and best fruit salsa/ Petaluma Woman’s Club. There’s also a People’s Choice award given in each of the categories.
The cook-off’s founder and organizer, Laura Sunday—who also runs Taste of Petaluma every September– has high hopes for this year’s contest. Last year, the event was attended by about 1,000 people and raised about $35,000 for Cinnabar Theater’s youth programs which include education in the performing arts and Cinnabar’s Young Repertory Theater, which produces several fully staged productions annually and serves hundreds of students from Sonoma County and beyond.
Some chili contests adhere to purist rules about what chili is and isn’t and what it can and can’t be. Some contests, for example, don’t allow beans in chili. In Petaluma, things are flexible and Sunday doesn’t give entrants any rules about chili or salsa. “We’re not internationally sanctioned. I don’t disallow beans. I love beans. Beans are healthy and delicious. If you want to put beans in your chili, I will not say no. My only rules are no roadkill.”
How does it all work? Because there are only 50 contestants, and entry is handled on a first-come, first-served basis, anybody with a hot recipe and the requisite $65 to $75 entry fee who entered before the March 15, 2011 deadline, made the cut.
Each contestant has been asked to prepare a whopping 9 gallons of the recipe entered, enough for the panel of judges and community tasting. Judging is on the basis of taste and personal preference of the V.I.P. judging panel—a team of 13 foodies and community members selected by Dick Kapash, the retired founder of Petaluma’s SOLA Optical. “I can’t get enough of those fine chili dishes…the chili, salsa and beer just keep getting better every year,” said Kapash, who has worked with Laura Sunday for about 8 years planning the event. Each judge tastes either chili or salsa and votes. This year’s judges are Dick Kapash, David Glass, Ryan Williams, Pamela Torliatt, Steve Jaxon, Jason Jenkins, Michael J, Mike Harris, Elece Hempel, Chris Samson, Pete White, Geneva Anderson, and Joe Davis.
When asked to judge, I opted for salsa–refreshing, tart and spicy–I make and eat it several times per week and am always up for a new twist. And, frankly, I am interested in seeing how others adjust their recipes to get that fresh flavor burst in non-tomato season. When you’ve got juicy sun-ripened tomatoes at your fingertips, everything is already easier.
As for chili, Sunday remarked that it’s amazing how often the judges’ and people’s choice winners are one and the same. ” There are some good chilis, some that are not so good and some that rise above the rest and truly sing,” said Sunday. ”We find the chili winners tend to be medium in heat. Highly spiced, burning chili is not very popular with the judges or the public for their votes. People like a rich tomato flavor and color, thick with good texture, with meat that is easy to chew, very flavorful. Not one distinct flavor should hit you first like salt, or any particular spice or ingredient. All the flavors should be blended and melded perfectly. One spoonful of a great chili is not enough. A great chili should make you crave more.”
Although the main event on Saturday will be the chili and salsa contest, in Behren’s Park, just next to Herzog Hall, there will be music by Stony Point and Rule 5 and entertainment by dance companies FIERCE Dance Company and Raks Rosa Arabic Dance Production. (full entertainment schedule), plus plenty of refreshment. If you sign on for the beer tasting component of the event—an additional $15–you’ll have your fill of the offerings of 15 local micro-breweries producing the finest premium ales around.
What’s the likelihood of coming home with a great chili receipt? According to Sunday, it’s not up to her. “Some entrants want to share, but some want to take their recipe to their grave. Some are family traditions passed down through the generations. But not many stay with the same recipe year after year. It’s always evolving and changing. Everyone is trying to perfect their chili.”
Details: 1 to 5 p.m., rain or shine at Herzog Hall and Behren’s Park, Sonoma Marin Fairgrounds (at East Washington Street and Payran Streets), Petaluma, CA. Tickets: Chili and Salsa tasting only $25; kids under 12 $10, under 5 free. Chili, Salsa and Beer tasting: $40. Purchase in advance online or in person at event.