Sept. 19, 2002 – Sooner or later it had to happen, and after 17 years, it has come to pass.
They've raised the cost of a taste of red at the Texas Society of the Virgin Islands Annual Chili Cook-Off. All the way from 25 to 33 1/3 cents.
But you know what? They're still expecting the usual hordes of chili lovers and other party people to head to St. Thomas's Sapphire Beach on Sunday afternoon to take in the 18th annual celebration of all that's hot — sun, sand, sounds and the meaty mixtures cooked up by devotees of Chiligula, the modern-mythology god of chili-heads.
So much so, perennial cook-off planner Georgeann Peters says, that the society has organized shuttle service from two remote parking areas this year. And, if you point your wheels in the right direction, you'll get a close-up view of the new St. Thomas Swimming Association pool in the deal.
Satellite parking will be available by the pool (next to the National Guard armory) and in the Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort lot. Shuttle service from both sites and back will be $1 each way. For those who park (legally, Peters emphasizes) along the road above the Sapphire Resort complex, Dial-A-Ride will provide mini-shuttle service from the main entrance down to the beach and back; the cost in this case also is $1 each way, with the proceeds to benefit the Dial-A-Ride program.
Peters says the society is pleased to partner with the swimming association in providing the public an opportunity to see the new pool — which is just about complete but doesn't have water in it yet. "Many people don't know it's finished. Many people don't even know where it is," she notes.
This is the eighth cook-off at Sapphire Beach, Peters says, pointing out that there's no problem remembering when the venue was first used. "We were scheduled for the day Hurricane Marilyn hit," she recalls. The event was postponed until November, when it turned out to be the best fund-raiser the society has ever had. "People were really in the mood for that one," she says.
The cook-off got its start at a restaurant called For the Birds on Scott Beach. After a couple of years, it was clear that a larger space with more parking was imperative. One event was held at Magens Bay, and then the society moved things to John Brewers Bay, where it stayed until the switch to Sapphire — again because of a need for more parking space.
There are "about 40 entries" for this year's cook-off, Peters says, adding with a chuckle, "Two will party too hardy at the cooks' party the night before, so count those out."
Competitors will set up shop at the crack of dawn Sunday, governed by rules that require everything to be prepared from scratch on site — and that forbid any kind of "filler" such as beans or rice in the chili they submit to the judging panel at noon. (After that, everybody's free to add in the add-ins, and many do — in part to make their pot of chili go farther — so don't be surprised to find such additives in your tasting cups.)
Judges will select the top 10 entries, with the top prize, as always, being a trip to Terlingua, Texas, to represent the Virgin Islands in the annual competition of the Chili Appreciation Society International. Separate judging will be held for three "showmanship" awards, which have little to do with chili and lots to do with what you do with it as a backdrop or prop.
At noon, public tasting begins. The drill is you stand in line to get your tickets for chili samples (3 for $1) and cold drinks and then you hang out as long as you like, tasting contestants' wares; washing them down with beer, soda or water; listening to live music; playing games; and, in the process, helping to raise funds for local worthy causes.
There's a commemorative T-shirt, too. This year's was designed on the front by DeLisa Correa, a student at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School, whose entry was selected in a competition. The back design is by Rosaline Carty, a Labor Department employee.
The musical entertainment will start off in the morning with something special for the cooks — "deejay Catfish doing 'Good Morning, America' Robin Williams-style," Peters says. At noon, Blue Shoes will take to the stage, with R.J. Nuisance and a country-western jam featuring the Bareback Riders and Lightnin' Phil and the Low Pressure System to follow. In between the performances, there will be beach games for kids and adults.
Peters says the music will go until about 5:30 p.m. Tried and true chili tasters know to get there by soon after noon to get the pick of the pots.
The cook-off proceeds will benefit the Queen Louise Home for the Aged, the local chapter of the American Red Cross, St. Thomas Rescue, St. Thomas Swimming Association, the Virgin Islands Institute of Performing Arts, Family Support Network, KidScope and Dial-A-Ride.
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