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Texas Chili Cook-Off Sizzles This Weekend

Sept 23, 2004 – Everyone has a famous chili recipe somewhere in the family coffers. A unique combination of meat, either ground or chopped, and the best spices you can find, can transform you into some kind of chili paradise. This weekend, those recipes will be stirred, spiced, tweaked, and tasted, then presented to a panel of judges with distinguished palettes. Each chef will be vying for the top prize in the 20th Annual Texas Society Chili Cook-off.
Georgeann McNicholas, who calls herself the Great Pepper of the Virgin Pods (as in chili pods), is a Texas transplant, and a member of the Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI). She organizes the cook-off every year. This week, McNicholas took a break from picking up the trophies to talk about her passion—what makes a really good chili. "Something that tastes really good," she said. "Not necessarily burns your mouth, but spicy, flavorful, thick, not watery, and a nice mahogany color."
Officially, each chili is judged by five criteria established by CASI: aroma, color, texture, taste, and aftertaste. There are lots of other rules as well, such as no fillers. That means leave the beans out until the judging is over. As for who will be doing the official tasting, McNicholas's lips are sealed. "We don't release the names of the judges," she said with a laugh. "It's a threat to their lives, people take it very seriously."
Set up begins at 6 a.m. Sunday morning. McNicholas will inspect the ingredients and make sure everyone starts with raw meat and raw vegetables, and then it's every chef for himself until judging at high noon. After that, the public is allowed to do all the tasting they can handle. The going rate is three tastes for a dollar, and there will be about 40 different pots to choose from. Chili is the main attraction, but there are other things to do as well.
"There will be great music, games for kids like a watermelon seed spitting contest, flipper races, tug of war, and an adult game that has to do with a block of wood and a ball—hysterical but for adults only," McNicholas said.
Proceeds from CASI cook-offs go to charity. Last year, the organization donated more than $1 million to charities in the United States, Canada, and the Virgin Islands. McNicholas says the Virgin Pod is consistently the top fund raiser, donating about $18,000 in 2003. Sunday's cook-off will benefit eight charities in the Virgin Islands, including the Queen Louise Home for the Aged, the V.I. Chapter of the American Red Cross, Family Support Network, St. Thomas Rescue, V.I. Institute of Performing Arts, Dial-A-Ride, Kidscope, and the St. Thomas Swimming Association.
The Chili Cook-off is Sept. 26 at Bolongo Bay Beach Resort, St. Thomas. Tasting starts at noon and winners will be announced at 4:30 p.m. There's still time to enter the contest. For information, call Georgeann McNicholas at 775-8011, or attend the cook's meeting Saturday at 6 p.m. at Iggies Beach Bar and Grill. For more information on CASI, log onto www.chili.org. .

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