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.