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Chili Cook-off draws hundreds

Proceeds to benefit Santa Clarita Special Olympics and Heads Up Therapy on horseback

Posted: October 3, 2009 8:11 p.m.
Updated: October 4, 2009 8:00 a.m.

Hailey Hartigan, 6, tries her hand at calf roping, one of the events for kids at the cook-off.

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As a former cook, firefighter Phil Lourito believes he knows a thing or two about cooking good chili.

“It should be thick and have cheese and Fritos,” said Lourito, of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

While having to accept second place favorite last year, Lourito and his “booth” would not accept defeat in the fourth annual “Fun in the Sun Chili Cook-off” at Jack Bones Equestrian center on Saturday.

The cook-off brought together samples of 16 different chili recipes, free live entertainment in an old western setting and a good cause.

Proceeds from the event will benefit Santa Clarita Special Olympics and Heads Up Therapy on Horseback, a nonprofit organization that provides therapeutic riding for disabled children.

Hundreds of local residents had plenty of opportunities at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department event to satisfy the craving for chili whether they wanted spicy or mild, beefy or veggie, chunky or thin.

“I want something meaty (and) that’s spicy yet not super hot,” said Saugus resident John Pellico, as he had just begun his chili-tasting journey at Jack Bones Equestrian Center on Saturday.

When it came to the palates of six community judges, it was a secret recipe topped with Fritos and cheese that satisfied them the most.

For the fourth year, Los Angeles County Fire Department joined with Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Special Victims Bureau in the chili cook-off.

This year the judges named their combined groups chili as first-place favorite. But Lourito wouldn’t give much too detail about the secret recipe.

“Chili is chunky and it’s supposed to have different flavors coming from all sides as far as herbs, vegetables and different meats,” Lourito said.

The group, labeled booth 24, also won the “Most Spirited” title for their decorations.

Lourito, along with Special Victim’s Detective Susan Velazquez, some firefighters and a group of L.A. County Fire Explorers, manned the booth.

“It’s sort of a rustic, chuck wagon fire engine,” said Lourito, of Lancaster. “It’s animated with water because fire goes with water. It’s set up with a fire siren, horn and lights.”

A framed tribute to Fire Capt. Tedmund Hall and Firefighter Specialist Arnaldo Quinones, who were killed in the Station Fire, also hung from the booth.

In second place, the East Los Angeles Sheriff’s Station came close to winning the judges over, but their spicy chili had tasters anxious to cool their tongues.

With five pounds of habanero chili peppers and four pounds of Serrano pepper, it’s probably no wonder the group took the title for “hottest chili.”

“It tastes good at first and as soon as it goes down the throat, it has that ‘oh’ effect,” said deputy Troy Krautkramer, who cooked the chili with custody assistant Lisa Cervantes.

“It doesn’t kill, you but it definitely has a harsh kick,” Krautkramer said.

While Sgt. Chris Mayhew and the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station did not stand out for the judges, there was one way in which they stood out from the rest.

“We’re the only green chili here,” said Mayhew, of Acton. “I think it brings uniqueness and let’s people try something different.”
Val Verde resident Dave Erlenbach rated the green chili in the top two out of the seven he had tasted.

Besides chili-tasting, the cook-off also offered activities such as horse rides, barrel racing and a classic car competition.

Three local bands — Avery James and the Hillendales, First Take and Frequency — performed for free and helped curtail costs of the event.

Heads Up Executive Director Nancy Pitchford-Zhe said the proceeds will help meet budget needs and provide food and care for 12 horses.

“The best thing is it’s for two great causes,” said Sgt. Mike Bailey, of the L.A. Sheriff’s Department Inmate Reception Center. “You get to have a good family day while helping someone else.”

Bailey helped lead the team of event planners for the cook-off, which was co-chaired by Tabitha Youngstrom and Sgt. Gerri McCorkle at Pitchess Detention Center.

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