Chili cook-off serves up sizzling-hot fun
by Patricia Walsh
Published - 06/20/12 - 04:35 PM | 3554 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ryan and Deb Knowles warm up for the Ocean Beach Chili Cook-Off by fine tuning their chili recipe under the entry of “Red Hot Chili Peckers.”                               This year will mark the couple’s fourth time going for the winning recipe. The cook-off serves a second purpose for the Knowles, though. It also gives them the opportunity for an annual family reunion.
Photo by Patricia Walsh I The Beacon
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For one group of contestants, it’s a family affair and reason for annual reunion

For Ryan and Deborah Knowles, the annual chili cook-off at the OB Street Fair is about love of family and community.

On June 23, they will compete for a fourth year in the competition as the “Red Hot Chili Peckers” — a name that pays homage to the beaks of Ocean Beach’s boisterous wild parrots. The cook-off serves as their annual family reunion; children, brothers, mom, nieces and in-laws join in to set up, serve, tear down and spend a day making memories.

With a full field of 28 contenders — featuring teams named Bar Key Chili, Chief Kiki and OBeeyahh Chili — the cook-off is not an endeavor to be taken lightly.

There’s the expense: a registration fee, food costs, an investment in equipment and decorations. There are requirements: all recipes must be cooked on site or ahead in an industrial kitchen, and contestants need to serve up at least 10 gallons of chili for 5,000 tastings.

There’s also the time involved: Deb handles the details and plans the booth weeks in advance. Ryan spends three days in a restaurant kitchen simmering his recipe to satisfaction. Event day starts at 4 a.m. and ends 12 hours later. None of it guarantees a prize, which has so far eluded the Knowles.

Why spend all that money and time?

“It’s for a good cause,” Ryan said. “It helps pay for OB’s Fourth of July fireworks and I dig fireworks.”

Weeks before the competition, Deb and Ryan — the latter a chemist by profession — are at home preparing. Banksy, the family cat, supervises from the couch as Deb goes over logistics and Ryan tweaks his recipe on a small scale.

As he stirs an aromatic pot of chili, he reveals his process: toasting fresh spices, roasting dried red chilies in a cast-iron pan with olive oil, cubing and searing a roast, adding ground beef, choosing the freshest spices like oregano and basil, and finding hot chilies like jalapeños and serranos.

The result is a spicy, meaty broth with smoke and heat. Paired with Ryan’s homemade bread, it is a palate pleaser.

Here’s how the Ocean Beach Street Fair’s chili cook-off works:

Time: The cook-off takes place at the street fair at the foot of Newport Avenue from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on June 23. Winners will be announced on the main stage at 4 p.m.

Cost: To vote, purchase two tastings for $1, or sample all recipes for $10.

Prizes and awards

Grand prize: People’s Choice Award: 1st place, $250; 2nd place, $150; 3rd place, $100.

Judges’ Award: 1st place, $200; 2nd place, $150.

Non-cash awards: Best booth and costume decorations; best theme, depicting Ocean Beach with emphasis on surfing or OB’s 125th anniversary; hottest chili.

Judging: The general public votes on the Grand Prize People’s Choice Award. Judges vote on best booth and costume, best theme, hottest chili and Judges’ Award.

Judges: This year’s panel includes District 2 City Councilman Kevin Faulconer, Matt Kalla, Bill Klees, Don Mullen, Assemblywoman Toni Atkins and Raymond Simas.
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